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A Remarkable Story of Bravery

Last year, I visited the Netherlands to photograph the locations that my father photographed in 1952. This included the Oosterbeek war graves cemetery on the outskirts of Arnhem where those who died during Operation Market Garden are buried.

Those buried here were not just casualties from the fighting on the ground, but also those who time after time flew supply missions and sustained terrible casualties as they had to fly low and slow to deliver an accurate drop.

In one of my father’s photographs, there is a temporary cross with multiple names, seen below to the left of the photo.

I did discover that they were an aircrew, probably flying supply missions, but could find no further information.

I was really pleased to be contacted by Paul Brooker, the nephew of Richard Bond, the name just visible at the bottom of the list of names in my father’s photo.

Paul has researched the story of Richard, and the aircrew named on the temporary cross, and has uncovered a remarkable story of bravery, so for today’s post, I would like to hand over to Paul to tell their fascinating story.

Richard Bond at Arnhem

Richard (Dick) Bond was the elder of two brothers by 3 years, and he enlisted into the RAF reserves as a fitter on 3rd September 1940, at the time that the Battle of Britain was coming to its climax. Whether it was the fact that his brother Stan was training as a Navigator I don’t know, but he subsequently started training as a Flight Engineer on 21st December 1942, later joining A. V. Roe & Co (AVRO) for a six week period on 25th October 1943. He qualified as a Flight Engineer on 25th November 1943, just 3 months after his brothers’ death. Married, his picture gives me the impression of the quieter elder brother. Much of the following information was unknown to my family until I started my research in 1994.

At the end of 1943 he joined 1665 Heavy Conversion Unit at Woolfox Lodge in Rutland where he met up with his first crew and flew his first Stirling. Although some of the crew members were to change over the coming months, he stayed with his pilot, Bill Baker right through to the end. Apparently Bill was an American pilot who already owned his own aircraft in the States, and he volunteered with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a way of “seeing the action.”

On the 7th January 1944 the crew joined their first operational squadron, 196 at Tarrant Rushton. In the previous months the Stirlings had taken such a mauling that they had been withdrawn from front line bombing duties due to their low ceiling capability of only some 16,000ft. The introduction of the Lancaster in greater numbers, with its higher ceiling and greater bomb capacity meant that the Stirling was now being used to good effect in a transport role.

Their first Operational Mission was flown from Hurn, just a short hop south of Tarrant Rushton on 8th February 1944 in aircraft W ZO.  (See picture above)  The log simply states “Special Mission-Low Level S. France.” This was to be the first of a number of night-time flights deep into enemy occupied France at rooftop height. Five hours forty minutes of intense concentration, especially for the pilot! Although it was generally believed that they were dropping supplies of arms and ammunition to the French resistance, together with SOE agents the exact details are unclear, indeed the full information of most of these low level drops remains covered by the Official Secrets Act.

Throughout much of early 1944 many supply drops were made to France by Stirlings in readiness for the coming invasion. Dick’s Log also shows an increasing number of flights were made towing Horsa Gliders and paratroop dropping – the shape of things to come. On 14th March 1944, 196 Sqn moved from Tarrant Rushton to Keevil where flying took place almost every day, practicing for the invasion. It is interesting to note from the log that flying appears to come to an abrupt halt after 27th May. This is explained by the need to get all aircraft serviced and fully ready to take part in what was to become known as D Day. During this intervening week all personnel were confined to the airfield. Secrecy was paramount and nobody was allowed in or out of the base without a very good reason. Finally, the aircraft were taken up for a short air test on 3rd June 1944.

Dick’s involvement with D Day actually began the night before when 20 troops together with their kit, 9 containers and a bike(!) were loaded into the aircraft. Along with many others from 196 & 299 Sqns, the Stirlings thundered down the Keevil runway and into the night sky on “Operation Tonga.” The only information that I originally had about the destination of this trip was that Operation Tonga involved dropping troops in the dead of night on “Drop Zone N.” Where was Drop Zone N?

In 1994, 50 years after D Day I went to France for the 50th Anniversary of D Day. My first stop in Normandy was the Cafe Gandrée at Ranville, next to what has now become known as “Pegasus Bridge” after the Flying Horse emblem of the Paratroops insignia. This was the first house in the first village to be liberated from German tyranny. Buying a souvenir map of Normandy I was astounded to realise that Drop Zone N was within 800m of where I sat. Dick’s troops must have been involved with the liberation of the first French village!

However, things did not all go smoothly. The anti-aircraft fire was intense, and the log reads “Two inner engines knocked out by flak. Nav. and Bomb Aimer bailed out over France. Crash landed at RAF Ford.” This matter-of-fact report must cover a great deal of fear and anxiety. According to family history, the aircraft had taken a bit of a pasting, and the intercom was u/s, the pilot, Bill Baker, said “prepare to bail out”, unfortunately the Navigator and Bomb Aimer only heard part of the message and they bailed out over the English Channel in the early hours of 6th June and were drowned. Richard Luff DFC, the Squadron Bomb Aimer was never found and his name is remembered along with all other aircrew with no known grave on the RAF Runneymead Memorial overlooking the River Thames near Windsor. He also took with him the whereabouts of a squadron sweepstake! Before D Day they had apparently taken bets on the time and date of the Normandy Invasion. The winner was denied his money as nobody knew where Richard Luff had left the takings!

Richard Luff was not normally part of my Uncle’s crew. Apparently, so I am advised by surviving 196 Sqn members, Richard Luff was the Squadron Bomb Aimer, so perhaps he was making sure he got in on the event! My Uncle’s pilot, Bill Baker, was already an experienced pilot before he came over from America, so perhaps he wanted to go with a reliable pilot! This is just my guessing, we shall never know.

Flying Officer Anderson, the Navigator, was washed up at Calais three weeks later and is now buried in the Canadian War Cemetery on the cliffs overlooking Calais.

The remaining crew then fought to bring their stricken aircraft home, throwing out guns, ammunition, indeed anything they could remove, into the English Channel. They finally made land at 02.28am, crashing just short of the airfield at RAF Ford. When you realise that Ford is only 1/2 mile from the sea, and that they couldn’t make it to the airfield, you begin to understand how close they came to ditching – no fun in the dead of night. The crew were given the customary week’s compassionate leave, but how does one get over leaving part of your crew in the English Channel?

After a week Dick was back to flying again, carrying out three more low level Special Missions to France, dropping containers and panniers for the SOE. On the 8th August, Dick and Bill Baker were transferred to 570 Sqn at Harwell where they teamed up with an existing crew who had lost their pilot due to sickness. This crew were to remain together until the end. A further three missions were flown to France during August and September before the log shows the final entries.

On the 17th September, eight aircraft from Harwell were detailed, as part of a much larger force, to tow Horsa gliders from Harwell to Arnhem. The gliders were carrying the HQ Staff and others from the First Airborne Division. One aircraft crashed on take-off. The remaining aircraft flew in loose pairs in a line astern formation. The trip out was at 2500ft, releasing the gliders over the drop zone at Grave, Holland, and then back at 7000ft. The chalk number of the glider was 504 belonging to 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, delivering them to landing zone Z.  Enemy opposition was light and the weather fair. The only problem was with the planning, it was believed, wrongly as it turned out, that the drop of sufficient troops to capture Arnhem and its bridge could not be achieved in one day, and it was therefore split over two days, losing the element of speed and surprise. As a consequence the paratroops became heavily pinned down, and the rest has now become the sad but heroic history of Arnhem.

The 18th September saw phase two, the continued re-supply, 15 aircraft from 570 Sqn each containing 24 containers and four packages were detailed to re-supply the troops on the ground at Arnhem. The run to the drop zone was carried out at 1500ft, descending to 600ft for the actual supply drop. One aircraft failed to return, another was badly hit by flak over the Dutch Islands and made a successful crash landing. Enemy opposition was getting heavier with most aircraft suffering some flak damage.

View of Horsa Glider being towed:

View of the landing ground to the north west of Arnhem showing gliders scattered over the landing field:

By the 19th September the position of the troops on the ground was getting desperate. The part time German troops that were originally believed to be in the area turned out to be a crack Panzer division on rest leave. The British Paratroops were out-gunned and outnumbered, and were being squeezed into an ever smaller enclave. Food and ammunition were running low and it was clear that the objective of capturing the bridge over the Rhine would not be achieved. The troops were now fighting for their survival. For the third day running 570 Sqn were detailed to fly to Arnhem, 17 aircraft each carrying 24 containers and four packages were briefed to drop on the ever decreasing area occupied by the British troops. The weather was bad over Belgium and Holland with 10/10ths cloud and visibility in most areas down to 2-4000yds. This restricted fighter support as most of the continental airfields were closed. Enemy opposition had greatly increased, especially around the D.Z. area, and crews reported intensive 88mm flak most aircraft suffering casualties and damage. All dropped successfully but three aircraft failed to return to base from 570 Sqn which was doubly hard as it was subsequently learned that the British were no longer in the Drop Zone, having been beaten back into an ever diminishing area by overwhelming fire power.

The adverse weather prevented flying on the 20th. It was 55 years later, sitting in the Oosterbeek Cemetery in September 1999, the 55th Anniversary Commemoration of the Arnhem landings that I realised Dick and his crew had tried to fly on the 21st. It is not shown in his log book as they probably did not have time to keep the books up to date, but the Squadron records show that they took to the air once again but had to turn back after an hour with engine problems – perhaps as a result of flying lead on the last trip – we shall never know.

Dick and his crew were again in the air on 23rd, taking-off at 14.34. Because of the desperate position our troops were now in the drop was ordered at zero feet to try and ensure the supplies got through. At this height aircraft and crew become very vulnerable. Little did the rear gunner, Dennis Blencowe know that a distant relative, George Blinko who was with the 21st Independent Parachute Regt. was one of those fighting below. He was wounded and on his way to hospital in Oosterbeek and ultimately to a German POW camp. George never knew of their efforts but I’m sure he would have been amazed to know a distant cousin was fighting for him in the skies above.

Fighter support was again poor and the usual 88mm flak came up in large quantities. All aircraft were believed to have dropped their supplies, but four failed to return home – including Stirling EF298 V8-T which carried Dick Bond and his crew, plus two Royal Army Service Corps dispatchers who were pushing the supplies from the aircraft.

THE CREW OF STIRLING EF 298 V8-T

  • Pilot F/O William Baker (RCAF)
  • Air Gunner   F/Sgt Dennis James Blencowe
  • Flight Engineer Sgt Richard Bert Bond
  • Air Bomber  F/O Robert Carter Booth
  • Navigator F/O John Dickson DFM
  • Wireless Operator   P/O Francis George Totterdell
  • RASC dispatchers – Robert William Hayton & Reginald Shore

Robert William Hayton:

The time of qualifying as a Flight Engineer to the time of his death was only 10 months. He had flown a total of 121 hours daylight and 110 night. He was 24, leaving a wife and baby daughter.

Postscript

As I mentioned earlier, much of the above information has only come to light during my research since 1994. Dick and Stan’s 3 sisters and one brother, together with Dick’s wife and daughter have only learned recently what quiet heroes these young lads were. In 1994, the 50th Anniversary of Arnhem I visited the town and saw where the fighting took place. Although some 90 aircraft were lost in total, I managed to locate the crash site of Dick’s aircraft, deep in pine woods some 5 miles to the North-West of Arnhem – they had evidently dropped their supplies and were on their way home. The crash site was very much like Stan’s – a peaceful pine forest, but still with broken pieces of aircraft clearly visibly across a wide area. Again, I had an unbelievable stroke of good fortune. The owner of the woods produced two photographs taken of the crashed aircraft and kindly provided copies for me. To be able to actually see the crashed aircraft 50 years later was remarkable.

Pictures courtesy of Mr Koker, the land owner:

Aerial photo taken 3 months later 23rd Dec 1944. The crash site is the rectangular shape in the centre of the picture, to the left of the road and railway line. The Germans collected the metal to recycle.

Although there are memorial stones in the Arnhem cemetery to all the crew of six plus the two Army Air Corps dispatchers who were pushing the supplies out of the aircraft, it was known that only three bodies were actually found. Our family have always believed for the last 50 years that Dick was literally blown to pieces. Although his wife has visited the gravestone, she felt that this had little meaning as “Dick was not there”. After my return to England I received a letter from the Dutch man who owned the woods. He had found a negative and had it developed. It showed two crosses. Of the eight people on board, three bodies had been found and buried alongside the plane. Of these three bodies the picture only showed two crosses. On one of the two crosses it is possible to make out on the original enlargement the words “An unknown British Airman”.    On the other is my Uncle’s name –R.B. BOND

My Aunt (Dick’s wife) and her daughter went back to Arnhem in September 1994 for the 50th Anniversary Commemorations. For my Aunt, it was to say a final Goodbye to her husband after 50 years. For her daughter, it was to say Hello to the Father she never knew.

In October 2002 Aunt Jessie died. It was Dick’s daughter’s wish that her mum’s ashes would be buried at her father’s grave in Arnhem. Re-united at last.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission advise that Robert Hayton was found in or near the aircraft and given a field burial by local Air Raid Wardens in the Onder de Bomen General Cemetery Renkum and was re-interred to Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery on 22 August 1945.

The CWGC advise that Dispatcher Shore’s unidentified body was initially buried by the crashed plane in the wood and was subsequently moved to Arnhem in March 1946. He was later identified in 1987 as the other members of the aircraft had been positively identified.

This report is my small tribute to the brave young men who gave their lives for our freedom

Headstones of the Aircrew Baker, Blencowe, Bond, Booth, Dickson & Totterdell

Oosterbeek Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery

Headstones of the RASC Army Dispatchers Hayton & Shore

I am really grateful to Paul for telling the remarkable story of those named on the temporary grave marker in my father’s photo, and for letting me publish it on the blog. If anyone has any additional information, or are relatives of the other aircrew, Paul can be contacted on:

 

The View from Greenwich Park – Watching the City Evolve

Last Sunday was one of those lovely autumn days when it was sunny, clear blue sky, and views were clear, with a lack of haze. To take advantage of the weather, I headed to see the view from Greenwich Park, one of my favourite locations to watch how London has been evolving over time.

My first visits to Greenwich Park were in the 1970s when our parents would take us for walks across the park and down to the river. The park has been a destination for repeat visits every few years since, with the high point adjacent to the Royal Observatory providing a location to view the changes across the Isle of Dogs and the City.

I wrote about the view from Greenwich Park in one of my first posts in 2014, and it is dramatic how the view has changed in just the five years since.

I am also slowly working through scanning of my own photos, and recently found a few more photos of the view from Greenwich Park, so for this week’s post, I thought I would explore how the view has changed over the centuries, and the rapid developments of the last few years.

The view from Greenwich Park has always attracted artists. the proximity of the Royal Observatory, Queen’s House, Royal Naval College and Hospital added interest to the view over the River Thames, and west towards the City of London.

I will start with the seventeenth century, and a view from:

1676

This print from 1676 shows the Observatory looking to the north, with the Queen’s House and the City of London in the distance. I am not sure if it is geographically accurate, but the river is on the left of the print with the City in the distance.

View from Greenwich Park

The print was made 10 years after the Great Fire, and before the completion of St Paul’s Cathedral, so this future landmark in the City is not yet shown in views from the park, but this would change in the 18th century:

1750

The following print is dated between 1740 and 1760, and provides a more accurate representation of the view from Greenwich Park.

View from Greenwich Park

The Royal Observatory is on the left, the Queen’s House to the right, and the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral with the spires of the City churches very visible in the distance. This would be the view of the City for much of the following two hundred years.

On the right, the river curves around the southern edge of the Isle of Dogs, still very rural with the 19th century industrialisation, docks and housing yet to appear.

1811

This print by J.M.W. Turner from 1811 shows the buildings of the Royal Naval College and Hospital. which have been constructed between the Queen’s House and the river.

View from Greenwich Park

In the distance we can still see St Paul’s Cathedral and the spires of the City churches. There is more shipping in the river and the print gives the impression of a more industrial environment along the river’s edge.

(The above three prints are © The Trustees of the British Museum)

1926

In 1926, the book Wonderful London included a photo of the Queen’s House and the Royal Naval College.

View from Greenwich Park

The photo looks across to the Isle of Dogs rather than the City, but the low rise nature of the buildings across the river are hidden in the haze and photo / print quality from the 1920s.

1953

In 1953, my father photographed the view from Greenwich Park, looking across to the Isle of Dogs.

View from Greenwich Park

The view across the river is still of low rise construction. The cranes lining the docks, the occasional chimney, and some large warehouses and grain stores.

I only wish my father had taken a photo of the view across to the City, but like the majority of photos taken from the high point adjacent to the Royal Observatory, it is the view across the park to the Queen’s House and Royal Naval College that provide the historic / scenic interest.

Working on this blog, and looking at the historical record in photos, what interests me is how photos record how the city changes, so I take photos of even the most mundane scene as you never know what the same view will be like in years to come.

I now come to the first of my photos:

1980

I took the following photo many years before I had seen or scanned my father’s photos, but it is remarkable how similar it is to the above photo, even the trees on the right look as if they have hardly grown in the 27 years between the two.

View from Greenwich Park

The view across to the Isle of Dogs is much the same, however there are now a number of tower blocks of flats starting to appear across east London.

The Cutty Sark, which arrived in Greenwich in 1954 is just visible on the left of the photo.

When I started taking photos of the view from Greenwich Park, I did photograph the view across to the City, not with any intention of seeing how the view would change, but I remember taking this photo because the first large office tower built in the City was now visible from Greenwich Park.

View from Greenwich Park

The NatWest Tower (now Tower 42) had just been completed when I took the above photo and the tower can seen in the centre of the photo – an indicator of the changes to come.

1986

In 1986 I was back in Greenwich. I have not yet found the negative with the view from the top of the park, but I did find this view from one of the paths leading down from the viewpoint by the Royal Observatory towards the river.

View from Greenwich Park

Again, the view across to the Isle of Dogs has very little in the background.

I also took the following photo during the same year looking across to the City.

View from Greenwich Park

The NatWest Tower is visible in the City. The chimney towards the left of the photo is at Deptford Power Station.

Both the above photos were taken during visits at the weekend, on lovely sunny days. They highlight how visitor numbers have changed over the last couple of decades, as in the 1980s, even on a sunny day, the park was not that busy.

I have not yet found any negatives with photos from the 1990s, so lets jump to the year 2007 and some dramatic changes have started.

2007

In 2007, the office towers clustered around Canary Wharf present a dramatic change in the view from Greenwich Park

View from Greenwich Park

And looking towards the City of London, and whilst the NatWest Tower is still prominent, it has now been joined by the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe), completed in 2003.

View from Greenwich Park

St Paul’s Cathedral stands out to the left of centre.

I had started playing with stitching photos together to make panoramas when I took these photos and the following is made from a number of photos from the Royal Observatory on the left across to the Millennium Dome on the right (click on the photo to enlarge).

View from Greenwich Park

My next visit was in:

2010

And the view across to the Isle of Dogs is much the same as it was in 2007:

View from Greenwich Park

Four years later I was back again:

2014

I took the following photo for one of my first blog posts, in April 2014 when I first wrote about the view from Greewich Park.

View from Greenwich Park

The view across to the Isle of Dogs is much the same as in 2007, but the view of the City has changed.

View from Greenwich Park

The NatWest Tower is still visible, with the Cheesegrater (the Leadenhall Building), completed in 2013 to the left of the NatWest Tower. The just completed Walkie Taking building (20 Fenchurch Street) is to the centre left, with the Heron Tower (completed in 2011) on the right.

Now jump 5 years later to:

2019

This was the view last Sunday from Greenwich Park across to the Isle of Dogs.

View from Greenwich Park

One Canada Square, the tower block with the pyramidal top, is almost lost among a jumble of different towers, which now consists of not just office blocks, but residential towers.

Note how the four blocks of flats on the left, which were first seen in my 1980 photos when they stood out as some of the tallest buildings in the view, have now been dwarfed by their new neighbours.

The view across to the City has changed.

View from Greenwich Park

The Shard is now visible on the left, and the office blocks in the City have grown.

The view of St Paul’s Cathedral is still unobstructed:

View from Greenwich Park

The recent completion of 22 Bishopsgate, the large block to the left of the Gherkin, almost completely hides the NatWest Tower, with the edge of the building just peeping out at the side of its much taller neighbour.

View from Greenwich Park

There is another viewpoint just to the west of the Royal Observatory. It is a good place to look at the view without the crowds that now cluster around the statue of General Wolfe, just outside the Royal Observatory, and from this viewpoint there is a better view of the cluster of towers across in the Isle of Dogs.

View from Greenwich Park

It is remarkable how rapid the development has been. Comparing with my 2014 photos show the degree of construction in just the last 5 years.

A 2019 panorama:

View from Greenwich Park

The view from Greenwich Park must be one of the most photographed views in London. The area outside the Royal Observatory, in front of the statue of General Wolfe is frequently crowded with people taking photos or just looking across to the towers of glass and steel that now dominate the view.

View from Greenwich Park

If I manage to keep up the blog for another 5 years, I will have to return to Greenwich and see how the view has changed and how many more towers have grown across London, and hopefully by then I can also fill in some of the missing years when I find and scan the negatives.

The Greenwich Peninsula is fast developing, and the Peninsula, Isle of Dogs and the City will be  three large clusters of towers that dominate the future view from Greenwich Park.

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St Katharine Docks

St Katharine Docks opened on the 25th October 1828. In August 1948, my father took the following photo of the dock entrance, whilst on a boat travelling from Westminster to Greenwich.

St Katherine Docks

In September 2019, I took a boat onto the river, and managed to get into roughly the same position to take a photo of the same view of the dock entrance (although the weather was not as sunny as in my father’s original photo).

St Katherine Docks

The Grade II listed Dock Master’s Office, with the curved frontage onto the river, still has a prominent position to the right of the dock entrance.

Part of the warehouse infrastructure can be seen in the background in both photos.

In the 1948 photo, you can just about see the original swing bridge over the entrance to St Katharine Dock. This bridge carried St Katherine Way from the east to the west of the dock.

The buildings on either side of the dock entrance have all changed. The large warehouse in the background on the right of the 1948 photo, is the warehouse seen in my father’s photo of St Katharine’s Way

The building on the left of the 2019 photo is the Tower Hotel.

A wider view (and in better weather) taken from the walk way along the south bank of the river is shown below:

St Katherine Docks

St Katharine Docks are the nearest to the City of London, of the docks constructed along the river starting in the 19th century. Occupying a relatively small area of land, and with a narrow entrance to the river, they were constructed on a historic location, immediately to the west of the Tower of London (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

St Katherine Docks

The following extract from John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the same area as the above map. Tower bridge has yet to be built, and the area that would become St Katharine Docks is to the right of the Tower, and consists of a number of streets, church, cloisters and gardens.

St Katherine Docks

The name Catherine is used for various features across Roque’s map, however I suspect this was the exception as most early maps and books reference the name spelt as Katherine, but it does highlight that the name has a long association with this specific area.

There was also a St Catherine’s Stairs shown on the map.

The area of land to be used for the new docks consisted of the foundations of St Katharine Hospital and Church, a brewery, around 1,100 houses along the streets, mainly to the north of the land.

If you look at Rocque’s map, to the right of the location of the future docks, is a narrow feature called St Catherine’s Dock, however the map strangely shows this feature not connected to the river. This dock provided a private landing place for the hospital, so in Rocque’s map it was either an error that the extension to the river was not shown, or by 1746 it had been filled in, which I doubt.

St Katharine Hospital was founded by Matilda, wife of King Stephen, on land she purchased from Holy Trinity, Aldgate.

Matilda was a fascinating character. The wife of Stephen of Blois, who was pregnant and living in Boulogne when Henry I died. Stephen raced across the channel to claim the crown in 1135, leaving Matilda in France to have her baby.

She joined him after the birth, and supported him throughout his war with another Matilda (Empress Matilda, Stephen’s cousin who also claimed the crown).

As well as raising support for Stephen from her allies in France, Matilda purchased the land, and founded the Hospital. Matilda transferred the custody of the Hospital to Holy Trinity, Aldgate, but reserved the right to choose the Master for herself, and all the Queens who would follow her.

The following map from 1781 shows the Hospital in more detail to Rocque’s map, and shows the church, cloisters, houses for brothers and sisters, burying ground and orchard. The St Katharine Dock, that provided private access to the Hospital is shown on the right of the map. The River Thames is at the bottom of the map as shown by St Katherine’s Stairs on the lower left.

St Katherine Docks

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p5412730

The following print from 1810, shows the church of St Katherine’s, Tower:

St Katherine Docks

The text provides some background (although I suspect the author has his Matilda’s muddled, as he states Maud, wife of King Stephen, rather than Matilda. Maud was also the name applied to Empress Matilda, the other claimant to the English crown):

“This Hospital dedicated to St Katherine, was founded in the Year 1148 by Maud, wife of King Stephen and is said to have been dissolved by the unjust machinations of Eleanor, widow of Henry the third, who refounded the present edifice and appointed to it a Master, three Bretheren Chaplains, three Sisters, ten Bedes Women and six poor Clerks. In the Year 1780 this Structure had nearly fallen a victim to popular phrensy under the idea of its being a Popish establishment; fortunately the Gentlemen of the London Association arrived in time to protect it from the effects of error and intoxication.”

The problem with secondary (or much more remote) sources such as prints or books is that they often have errors and contradictory information.

Old and New London (Walter Thornbury, 1881) also states that the Hospital was dissolved and refounded by Eleanor, widow of Henry III, whilst London Churches Before The Great Fire (Wilberforce Jenkinson, 1917) states that “The Hospital and Collegiate Church of St Katherine by the Tower, founded by Queen Alienore, widow of Henry II”.

What appears to have happened is that the standards of the Master and Brothers had fallen below what was expected as they were found to be “frequently inebriated”, so in 1273 Queen Eleanor refounded the Hospital and appointed a new Master and Brothers.

The brothers houses in 1781:

St Katherine Docks

The Hospital survived the Reformation, probably as a result of the influence of Katharine of Aragon, who despite her divorce from Henry VIII, remained the patron of the Hospital, Anne Boleyn did not take up the role, despite this being the traditional role of the Queen.

The early 19th century was a time of considerable expansion of the docks, eastward from the City. The volume of shipping and of goods was high, and the charges levied by the dock owners had limited competition, so there was no incentive to reduce charges. Shipping volumes across the Port of London increased from 13,949 in 1794 to 23,618 in 1824.

The scheme for St Katherine Docks comprised a basin of about 1.5 acres, and two docks of around 4 acres each.

The following plan from 1825 showing the proposed St Katharine Docks is fascinating:

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q8051215

The plan shows how the new docks would overlay the existing streets and buildings, and therefore provides a means to locate where these would be across the current site. It also shows the location of the original St Katharine Dock, the narrow channel to the right of the central basin.

The plan shows that originally two entrances to the docks were planned, however only one was built.

St Katharine Docks had a rather unique design, different to the design of the London and West India Docks. in these docks, which had already been constructed, there was an area of land between the edge of the dock and the warehouses. This allowed goods to be offloaded, then sorted before moving to the correct warehouse.

With the design of St Katharine Docks, the warehouses were built almost up against the edge of the dock, with the intention that goods would be unloaded directly from ship into the warehouse, therefore making the whole process considerably more efficient. This would work well if the goods from a ship were all of the same type, but not for a mixed cargo. This design was not used again at any other London dock, which probably gives an indication that the intended efficiencies were not achieved, or that the design lacked flexibility to support mixed cargoes.

The dock entrance from the river was also of a smaller width than the other docks, thereby limiting the size of ship that could enter St Katherine Docks.

The scheme was put before Parliament in 1823, but was opposed by the Commons on the second reading. The scheme returned to parliament in 1825. The owners of the London Docks opposed the building of the new docks and attempted to demonstrate that spare capacity was available at other docks on the river, however incorrect figures put forward by the London Docks Company was shown to be wrong, and that there were indeed problems with warehousing space, and that the London Docks sometimes had 4,000 to 5,000 casks waiting on the dock side for space in the warehouses.

There were also arguments against the use of such historical land, which had been used for religious purposes for seven centuries, however the remaining Brothers were offered new accommodation near Regent’s Park, which was probably a much improved location to that near the river, which Stowe described as “tenements and homely cottages having inhabitants, English and strangers, more in number than on some city in England”, and with street names such as Dark Entry, Cat’s Hole, Shovel Alley and Pillory Lane.

The new buildings by Regents Park for the Brothers were designed by Ambrose Poynter in a Gothic style, much to the frustration of Nash, who saw the buildings as a Gothic intrusion into his Georgian terraces.

The bill, as approved by Parliament, had clauses added to protect and refund the landlords of the properties, however those who were renting the houses in the streets that would soon disappear had to fend for themselves, and find new accommodation in the City (reading the proceedings of the bill, it is remarkable how the process appears to be the same as today, and perhaps also the focus on land owners rights, rather than those only able to rent a property).

The last service in the church took place on the 30th October 1825, with construction starting in 1827, the foundation stone being laid in May of that year.

The soil excavated from the docks was transported west along the river and used to fill in the old reservoirs of the Chelsea water works, and along the southern parts of Pimlico.

Delays to completion of the docks were caused by an exceptionally high tide on the 31st October 1827, which flooded part of the dock workings – newspaper reports tell of Londoners watching the inundation from the edge of the construction site.

The docks were completed and officially opened on the 25th October 1828.

The following painting shows the first ships entering St Katharine Docks during the opening ceremony.

St Katherine Docks

The opening ceremony was reported in the press as a great celebration – from Bell’s Weekly Messenger on the 27th October 1828

“The interesting ceremony of opening the St Katharine Docks took place on Saturday afternoon, and was witnessed by between 18,000 and 20,000 persons. Such was the excellence of the arrangements made, that not a single accident occurred.

By one o’clock in the day, the wharfs and ranges of warehouses presented a most brilliant and animated scene, being filled by highly respectable individuals. Four bands of music were stationed at different positions, and enlivened the scene by playing national and other airs. The ships, nine in number, destined to enter the Docks, were off the entrance dressed out in the colours of all nations, and nearly every vessel in the vicinity of the Docks hoisted her colours, so what with the numerous banners flying in all directions, and the fineness of the day, a more interesting sight has seldom been witnessed. On the eastern dock wharf was stationed a small pack of artillery, which was discharged repeatedly during the entrance of the vessels into the Docks. At about a quarter to two o’clock the tide had risen sufficiently high to permit the commencement of the ceremony.

The Dock gates  were opened, and the Eliza, a fine East India trader, in ballast, entered amid the most deafening applause. The bands struck up ‘God save the King’. The yards were manned, and the deck was crowded by visitors. She entered majestically and was greeted loudly. She is bound for Madras, and waits a cargo at the Docks. Next followed the Mary, laden with goods from the Cape of Good Hope; she also was greeted warmly. The Catherine, Prince Regent and five other vessels followed, all dressed out, and were loudly cheered. the latter are in the Baltic trade. The ceremony having been concluded, the large mass of the visitors departed – those having blue tickets however, passed up into the second floor of the warehouses, marked C, and there partook of a grand collation provided for the occasion.

Success to the St Katharine Docks was drank in bumpers from every mouth, and the day passed off without the occurrence of any untoward event to damp the spirits of the numerous company.”

The docks as they appeared in full operation:

St Katherine Docks

The business opportunities offered by the new Docks were quickly recognised by the businesses in the immediate vicinity, as illustrated by the following newspaper advert:

“Lot 2. A substantial brick-built Free Public-house, the Camel, No 107 Minories, in view of the entrance of the St Katharine Docks, capable of doing a good trade in the spirit and tavern department, from its approximation to the Docks. Lease 19 years, at a moderate rent.”

A rather unusual import occurred in December 1848 when an immense cask of Port Wine was delivered from Oporto by the ship Pezo da Regoa. It held around 620 gallons with a value of £650 – a considerable sum in 1848. The justification for the large cask, was that wine develops a “high vinous character more fully in a large bulk, than it is possible to do in the casks (little more than one-sixth in size usually employed for transmission to this country”.

The giant cask:

St Katherine Docks

St Katharine Docks were reasonably successful, although perhaps not as good as expected. Returns to investors averaged between 2.75% and 5% in the years up to 1864, when St Katharine Docks amalgamated with the nearby London Docks.

One of the limitations to the success of St Katherine Docks was the narrow entrance from the Thames which limited the size of ships able to enter.

The docks were bombed during the war, and never recovered after the war, becoming the first of the London docks to close, in 1968.

Unlike the docks further east, St Katharine Docks were not left derelict for too long, however many of the original warehouses were demolished to make way for new buildings in the 1970s, and the dock itself became a mariner.

I suspect it was the proximity to the City that resulted in the rapid reuse of the site. The docks further east, and on the Isle of Dogs were too remote from the City, and also St Katharine Docks was a much smaller parcel of land than the other locations.

I went for a walk around St Katharine Docks at the end of August, when the weather was far better than on the day i was on the river. There is now a foot bridge over the dock entrance, close to the river. This is the view looking up towards the basin, with one of the few remaining buildings in the background, along with the clock tower seen in my father’s 1948 photo.

St Katherine Docks

I have taken loads of photos around St Katharine Docks over the years. The majority I have yet to find and scan, however this is a photo from 1981 from above the dock entrance showing a similar view.

St Katherine Docks

On the day of my visit, it was the start of the Round the World Clipper Race, so the docks were looking more colourful than usual.

St Katherine Docks

This is the view over the eastern dock. All the original warehouse buildings have been demolished, to be replaced with new apartment buildings.

St Katherine Docks

The Clipper yachts adding a splash of colour in the central basin:

St Katherine Docks

At the time of writing, the Clipper yachts have left Uruguay and are a short distance into their crossing of the South Atlantic Ocean, on their way to Cape Town, South Africa. A nice link with the past, when ships arriving at, or leaving St Katharine Docks would travel to all regions of the world.

The following photo is of the walkway alongside the main remaining warehouse.

St Katherine Docks

The photo illustrates the design, only used at St Katharine Docks, where the warehouse was built very close to the edge of the dock. There was no space for unloading from the ship and sorting on the quayside, before moving to the correct warehouse. At St Katharine Dock, the intention was to move cargo more efficiently directly from ship to warehouse.

The photo also shows how St Katharine Docks have now been transformed into a popular food and drink destination, with restaurants lining the ground floors of the old warehouse and some of the buildings that have replaced many of the original buildings.

Looking back over the central basin. The entrance to the dock is on the right:

St Katherine Docks

The walkway across from the central basin to the edge of the western dock:St Katherine Docks

The western dock, showing how St Katharine Docks are now used as a marina.

St Katherine Docks

The photo below is another of my 1981 photos of St Katharine Docks. This is on the north bank of the western dock. In the above photo, it is where the new buildings along the right of the dock are located.

St Katherine Docks

This was at a time when parts of the dock were still yet to be developed, and you could drive into and park directly alongside the docks. The cast iron pillars are all that was left of the warehouse that ran alongside this part of the docks. These all appear to have been lost as part of the redevelopment.

Detail from one of the pillars:

St Katherine Docks

The original stone of the dock side walls survives:

St Katherine Docks

Mayhew, in London Labour and the London Poor provided some interesting statistics which give some insight into employment at St Katharine Docks.

St Katharine Docks employ a ticket system for the employment of workers. The docks would not employ casual workers, only workers who had previously been recommended to the Company and were seen to be of good character. The Company would allocate a ticket to the worker, allowing them to be employed as a preferable ticket labourer.

Despite having a ticket, a worker would not have a guaranteed level of work, as this was dependent on the number of ships, and volume of goods to be moved.

The base level of employment at the docks was 35 officers, 105 clerks and apprentices, 135 markers, samplers and foreman, 250 permanent labourers, 150 preferable ticket labourers, proportionate to the work to be done.

The number of labourers needed could fluctuate dramatically. In 1860, the number of labourers employed at the docks on any one day ranged from 515 to 1,713, so a range of 1,200 a day, in the need for labourers.

Mayhew commented that the ticket system at St Katherine Docks did appear to result in a workforce that “have a more decent look, but seem to be better behaved than any other dock-labourers I have yet seen”.

Despite the ticket system and the workforce “having a more decent look”, the daily fluctuation in the number of workers needed would result in many hundreds not receiving a wage for the day, whilst for those in work, the newspaper advert mentioned earlier told of the pubs that lined up. close to the dock entrance, ready to take the wages of the worker before he reached home.

Again, I have only just scratched the surface of such an interesting and historic London location. History dating back to the 12th century, with a religious function for 700 years until religion was replaced by commerce with the building of the docks in the early 19th century.

A subject to return to, when I have found more of my photos of the site over the last few decades.

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Defending The Thames – Hadleigh Castle

Long term readers of the blog will probably recognise my fascination with the River Thames and how the river has shaped London, and London’s influence on the river.

The river was the main driver in London’s economic growth, providing the route by which ships could reach the City from the sea. This led to the expansion of central London docks, followed by the move of docks from the City out to the Estuary.

The river has also been a weak point, allowing enemies to attack key locations along the Rivers Thames and Medway, and potentially strike at the City.

The River Thames has been lined with various forms of defence over the centuries. I have already written about Tilbury Fort and Coal House Fort, and at Hadleigh in Essex there are the remains of a medieval castle, refurbished and extended to defend the Thames Estuary against the French during the 100 years war, and to provide a royal residence away from London.

A couple of week’s ago I was in Southend (Gary Numan at the Cliffs Pavilion – reliving the late 1970s / early 1980s), so I used the opportunity to visit Hadleigh Castle, just to the west of Southend, on a hill and overlooking the estuary of the River Thames.

The origins of Hadleigh Castle date back to 1215, when King John gave Hubert de Burgh land around the village of Hadleigh. de Burgh constructed the first castle on the site to demonstrate his position in the country and ownership of the Manor of Hadleigh.

As was often the case, relationships became strained as power shifted and de Burgh was forced to return his lands to Henry III in 1239.

Not much happened at the castle until the early 1300s when Edward II started to use the castle as a residence and constructed a number of internal buildings to help make the castle more suitable to providing royal accommodation.

Hadleigh Castle’s potential value as a fortification overlooking the Rover Thames was seen by Edward III during the Hundred Years War – the period straddling the 14th and 15th centuries when the Kings of England fought for the French crown, and the ownership of lands in France.

The Thames was a route whereby the French, and their allies, could attack the towns along the river, potentially all the way to London. This was a very real risk as demonstrated by the attack on Gravesend in the 1380s, and concerns that the French were assembling a large fleet for invasion.

Edward III built on the work of Edward II, strengthening and extending Hadleigh Castle.

Edward III may also have been interested in the castle as a retreat from London, providing views over the river and estuary. The area around the castle also provided extensive hunting grounds for Edward III and his guests.

The river provided easy access to the castle and there are records of the Royal Barge being moored at Hadleigh.

Royal interest in Hadleigh Castle was short-lived as after the death of Edward III the castle was no longer used as a royal residence, instead being leased to a series of tenants, until being sold off in 1551 to Lord Riche, who took no interest in occupying the castle, and started demolition to sell off the castle as building materials.

The version of Hadleigh Castle we see today is therefore a ruin and a shadow of its former self. Just a few towers, walls and foundations that have survived demolition and the castle’s geologically unstable location.

This is the view looking east, with the estuary on the right and the one remaining tower in the centre of the photo.

Hadleigh Castle

Almost the same view was the subject of a painting by John Constable in 1829, titled “The Mouth of the Thames–Morning after a Stormy Night”:

Hadleigh Castle

Image credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

I really do like this painting. It perfectly captures the relationship between the sky and the estuary. Blue sky is starting to appear after the stormy night, and the sun is shining on the ruins of the castle.

In many ways Constable’s view is much the same today, although there was no Southend pier jutting out into the estuary in 1829, and today, cows are not grazing on the slopes adjacent to the castle.

Constable exhibited the painting at the Royal Academy in 1829, where it was described as “Full of nature and spirit, and graceful easy beauty; though freckled and pock-marked after its artist’s usual fashion”.

The painting now appears to be part of the Yale Centre for British Art collection in New Haven, Connecticut in the United States. I am not sure how it was acquired by the Yale Centre. In 1936 newspaper reports were congratulating the National Gallery on the acquisition of the painting and saving the painting for the nation.

The same newspaper reports were also expressing concerns about the planned development of the area around Hadleigh Castle. Factory sites were planned for the land around the castle. The villages of Leigh-on-Sea and West Benfleet were expected to expand towards the castle, and a road was planned to be built to run parallel to the railway.

The site of the castle is still relatively isolated. There are houses about half a mile further in land, and the Salvation Army run Hadleigh Farm is on the approach to the castle. I suspect the war put a hold on the proposed factories.

The following map extract shows the strategic location of Hadleigh Castle, marked by the yellow circle (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Hadleigh Castle

The map shows that the castle’s position provided an ideal view over the estuary, and any attacking force would be clearly seen. The map does not clearly show the height of the castle, which stands 42m above sea level. Not that high, but high enough in this part of southern Essex to provide a commanding view over the river.

The geology of the site is interesting as the castle stands on the edge of high ground, which quickly falls to a level stretch of land between the castle and the river. The following photo is the view looking towards the south-west, with a c2c train running on the route from London Fenchurch Street to Southend and Shoeburyness.

Hadleigh Castle

In the distance are the cranes of the London Gateway port, and in front of them are the oil storage tanks to the west of Canvey Island and in Coryton. Canvey Island is between the oil tanks and the stream of water.

The view below is looking south. The river is at sea level, and the land gradually rises to 6 metres at the rail line.

Hadleigh Castle

During the medieval period when the castle was constructed and in use, the area between the mound on which the castle was built, and the river would have been marshland, and probably subject to flooding at times of very high tide.

The view looking to the east, Southend Pier is visible in the distance.

Hadleigh Castle

The following print from 1772 shows Hadleigh Castle from where the railway line runs today. Although the majority of the castle had been demolished for building materials, some of the southern walls still remained, although the majority of these have since disappeared.

Hadleigh Castle

Although from a strategic perspective, Hadleigh Castle was built in an ideal position, with a commanding view over the approaches to the estuary and River Thames, geologically it was built in a very precarious position.

The castle sits on an unstable spur of London Clay. Over the centuries there have been numerous slippages and damage to the castle building, beginning soon after completion of the castle. The last major landslip was during the winter of 1969 / 1970.

Today, about a third of the southern side of the original castle has been lost due to slippage.

In Constable’s painting, two towers can be seen. Today, only one tower survives. The second tower to the north has slipped and collapsed and the remains can be seen to the right in the photo below:

Hadleigh Castle

The main tower still looks impressive, and gives a good idea of what the whole castle must have looked like in the 14th century:

Hadleigh Castle

Although the tower sits at the edge of the descent down to lower ground towards the river, and cracks inside the tower tell of the possible future for this one substantial remaining part of Hadleigh Castle.

Hadleigh Castle

The exterior of the collapsed tower:

Hadleigh Castle

The interior of the collapsed tower:

Hadleigh CastleThe following photo from Britain from Above shows Hadleigh Castle in 1930.

Hadleigh Castle

The tower on the left of the above photo is the one that has since collapsed.

The photo does provide a good view of the overall size of the castle, and the rather precarious position, situated on top of a high mound of London Clay.

The river is to the right of the photo and the two towers are facing to the east – to the Continent and to the Estuary, so the two large towers would have been the first evidence of the king’s power that anyone arriving from the Continent would have seen.

19th century interest in Gothic landscapes and architecture, and recreating late medieval architecture may have been the source of considerable growth in visitor numbers to Hadleigh Castle. Constable’s painting probably contributed, as did the relatively easy access from London on the Fenchurch Street line.

Visitor numbers were of such a size that in the later part of the 19th century, a large refreshment room was opened in the grounds of the castle, with seating for 400 people.

No such facilities at the castle today, just neatly clipped grass as the castle is now under the care of English Heritage.

Hadleigh Castle

When the Crown sold the castle to Lord Riche in 1551, he seems to have commenced the demolition of the castle for building materials in an organised manner. In the grounds of the castle are the remains of a lead melting hearth from the mid 16th century. The hearth was used to melt down the lead window frames from the castle, thereby making it easier to transport the lead away from the site.

Hadleigh Castle

The hearth is located in the middle of the castle’s hall, with only the foundations remaining today.

Hadleigh Castle

Part of the remaining curtain wall:

Hadleigh Castle

The southern edge of the castle, looking towards the west:

Hadleigh Castle

The above photo marks the boundary to the left, with the land that has fallen away in previous landslides.

To the left, there was the King’s Chamber, continuation of the curtain wall surrounding the castle, and the south tower. All lost as the London Clay fell away.

The one main archaeological excavation of the castle was carried out in 1863 by a Mr H.M. King, working for the Essex Archaeological Society. The work was extensive, however the finds from the excavation have since been lost.

Edward III also constructed a castle on the opposite side of the Thames at Queensborough on the Isle of Sheppy, although nothing now survives of this castle.

So, Hadleigh Castle is the one remaining example of a medieval castle on the Thames Estuary. The last land slip was in 2002, so for how long the castle will remain in its current condition is open to question as the London Clay gradually slips away.

Although the castle is fading away, it is still more substantial than the ghost that a Mr Wilfred Davies of Canvey Island was looking for in the 1960s and early 1970s, when armed with tea and sandwiches, he would keep a nightly vigil at the castle, looking for a female ghost that was reported to slap people’s faces. I bet though, on a dark night at the castle’s isolated position, looking over the Thames Estuary, it would be easy to imagine the ghosts of those who made it their home in the 13th to 15th centuries.

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My Tea Shop – Duke Street Hill

A rare week day post today with a short account of just one of the small changes that take place every day all across London.

I was at London Bridge Station earlier this week, and noticed that a cafe photographed in 1986 had changed to a kebab shop. I think the change was relatively recent, but it is indicative of small changes across the streets of the city that can easily go unnoticed.

Duke Street Hill runs from the junction with Borough High Street down to Tooley Street, alongside the brick railway viaduct that exits London Bridge Station on the route to Cannon Street Station, and with a couple of entrances to London Bridge Underground Station.

The area was very different in 1986 when the following photo was taken, the rebuild of London Bridge Station was still some years in the future and at number 23 Duke Street Hill was My Tea Shop:

My Tea Shop

This was in the years before Starbucks, Costa, Pret and the multiple other chains and individual specialist coffee shops and cafes spread across London and My Tea Shop was representative of the type of small cafe serving Londoners in the mid 1980s.

It was small, served a brilliant breakfast, and also had a rather unusual name.

Their target market was those looking for breakfast and lunch, being open from 7 in the morning till 2:30 in the afternoon. A cup of tea cost 20p, and bacon, egg, and two sausages could be had for £1.05

This is the same location today, with the site of My Tea Shop now occupied by Londoner kebabs.

My Tea Shop

I took a wider view to the 1986 photo to show the exact location. The entrance to London Bridge Underground Station is on the left of the photo.

The fascia has completely changed to align with the new business, however I do hope the original sign was left underneath the new sign which projects forward from the wall.

To prove this is the same location (as there are no location specific indicators in the 1986 photo), brick patterns offer a useful confirmation and the following two photos show the wall to the right of the cafe in 1986 (left) and 2019 (right) and the brick patterns, including those I have circled, confirm this is the same location.

My Tea Shop

The type of cafe that My Tea Shop was a good example of, were once relatively common across London, but changing tastes, populations, high rents, growth of global chains, have all contributed to their decline.

I am not sure when My Tea Shop closed, I have walked past many times and not noticed, it was only because I had 30 minutes of spare time that I had a walk to take a closer look at how the area has changed that I noticed – such is the way of gradual change. It was also then that I realised it was one of the many locations in my collection of 1980s photos.

Google Street View shows the cafe still as My Tea Shop in 2015. By 2017, the cafe had changed to My Tea & Coffee Shop, perhaps trying to respond to the change from tea to coffee drinking and the challenge from the chain coffee shops. In January 2018, the cafe was still My Tea & Coffee Shop, but by 2019 had changed to the Kebab Shop we see today.

I do not know when the cafe first opened, but it seems as if My Tea Shop was open for at least 30 years.

The ever-changing London street scene.

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Baltic Street School and Great Arthur House, Golden Lane Estate

For today’s post, I am back in the area of the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates, exploring the location of one of my father’s photos of the area taken a couple of years after the war, prior to any clearance or construction of the new estates.

This is the view looking across an area that would later become part of the Golden Lane Estate:

Golden Lane Estate

With this photo there is one very obvious landmark, and a couple of other buildings that have helped to confirm the exact location.

The church spire in the photo is that of St Luke’s on Old Street. To the left of the photo there is a building with a rather distinctive bow front. This was the Baltic Street School, and fortunately this building is still there, and is now the London College of Fashion.

To the right of the school, and just below the church spire is a corner building, on the corner of Golden Lane and Garrett Street, and to the right of this building are a couple of other three / four storey buildings – all these have survived, and can still be found.

From some other photos in the same series, I know my father was standing on the edge of Fann Street to take this photo. There are two other street surfaces to be seen in the photo. If I have the alignments right, I suspect the short stub of street on the right edge of the photo was Little Arthur Street, and the street surface in the centre of the photo was Great Arthur Street – a name that can still be found on the estate today, but not as a street.

The following map shows the locations today, with arrows leading back to where I suspect my father was standing. The longest arrow points to St Luke’s and the shorter arrow to the Baltic Street School  / London College of Fashion with the distinctive bow front to the building also shown on the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Golden Lane Estate

The view in my father’s photo is the rear of the school building as Baltic Street was on the opposite side of the school, however this view shows the forward thinking design of the school building as this is the south-facing facade, and the large bay of the building has tall, almost floor to ceiling windows, to let in as much light as possible. The rooms either side of the bay also have a considerable number of windows.

This view of the school is still visible today from Golden Lane, and the sun streaming onto the building shows how much natural light must have been let into the school.

Golden Lane Estate

The site immediately in front of Baltic Street School was occupied by the Richard Cloudesley School, built as part of the post war reconstruction of the area. This school has since been demolished as a new school for the City of London Primary Academy Islington is being built on the site, along with a number of residential flats.

The earliest written evidence I can find for the Baltic Street School dates from around 1890, so this would put the construction of the school within the period of time (1870 to 1904) that the London School Board were constructing some magnificent schools across London.

From the early 1890s onward there are numerous reports of prize-givings and events at the school, perhaps one that is most indicative of the poverty of the area was an article in the Hackney Express and Shoreditch Observer describing Christmas morning in 1902:

“Then I took a tram car to Golden-lane and in Baltic-street board school found a vastly different sight. Seven hundred boys and girls were tucking in a dinner of roast beef, bread and baked potatoes, some ravenous as young lions, and others overcome by the liberal helping. Last week Mr John Kirk, secretary of the Ragged School Union, received an offer of this dinner from Messrs. Pearks, Gunston, and Tee, Ltd, if he would find the guests. That was soon settled, and Mr Lewis Burtt went round to the board schools leaving batches of tickets for the poorest scholars.

The ticket cordially invited the bearer to dinner at 12 o’clock, and added ‘Please bring a knife, fork and spoon with you.’ I am afraid some came without these implements, and towards the end, as food was abundant, scores of hungry waiters outside were admitted.”

It is pointless to take a photo of the same view today, as although Fann Street is still there, the view is completely obscured by the buildings of the Golden Lane Estate which was built on the land in the foreground of my father’s photo in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The following photo is looking back from Golden Lane with the school on the right, towards where the original was taken from, just behind the central tower block.

Golden Lane Estate

I looked through the school gates to see what was probably a small rear playground to the school. The tall windows seen on the central bay are replicated on the side of the building. To the left is a high brick wall.

Golden Lane Estate

This is an original wall and if you look closely at my father’s photo, it was visible in his photo. The brick wall originally separated the school grounds from Hatfield Street – one of the many streets now lost under the post-war development of the area.

The following photo is looking down Baltic Street from Golden Lane. the school is the dark brick building on the left, and the flat facade shows the difference in design between this north facade to the south-facing, with the large bay.

Golden Lane Estate

Going back to the original photo, to the right of Baltic Street School, on the opposite side of Golden Lane, is a lower corner building with a larger warehouse behind. These two buildings can still be seen on Garrett Street, although what was a warehouse building is probably now only a facade:

Golden Lane Estate

Also back in the original photo is another building with rows of closely spaced windows. This building also survives and the rear of the building (the facade seen in my father’s photo), can be seen in the photo below:

Golden Lane Estate

A better view of the building is on Garrett Street, where the building’s unusual design is easier to see. Long rows of relatively small, but closely spaced windows line the three floors of the building:

Golden Lane Estate

Signage on the front identifies the purpose of the building:

Golden Lane Estate

The building dates from a time when horses were still responsible for much of the haulage of goods across London and many thousands of horses needed to be stabled close to the centre of the city.

The building was purpose-built and designed to provide relatively good stabling for the horses of the Whitbread company – not I suspect out of any real concern just for the welfare of the horses, rather these were financial investments, and their ability to lead a reasonably long and productive life was an important concern for the Company.

The last horses left the stables in 1991. Although lorry transport had taken over nearly all of Whitbread’s transport, a limited number of shire horses were retained, mainly for show and a limited number of deliveries across the city.

The building is now occupied by the building materials distributor, Travis Perkins, whose initials are displayed on the main entrance from Garrett Street, on what could possibly be the original doors.

Golden Lane Estate

There was one last landmark from the original photo that I wanted to find, so leaving Garrett Street, I walked back up Golden Lane, along Old Street to find the church of St Luke, which provided one of the main landmarks in my father’s original photo:

Golden Lane Estate

The spire of St Luke’s is one of the most distinctive in London, being a fluted obelisk rising up from the tower.

The church was consecrated in 1733, and owes its existence to the 1711 Act of Parliament which proposed the build of 50 new churches across London to serve the spiritual needs of Londoners as the city rapidly expanded.

Only 12 were built, with St Luke’s being one of the last, and on a much restricted budget to many of the earlier churches, which could have led to the problems which nearly resulted in the loss of the church.

Throughout its existence, the church needed a considerable amount of repair work and underpinning, culminating in major subsidence in 1959 which left a number of the supporting pillars detached from the roof.

The roof of the church was removed and it was effectively left derelict with a very uncertain future.

Despite being Grade I listed, the state of the church gradually deteriorated as it was left roofless from 1959 to the 1990s, when it was taken over by the London Symphony Orchestra and rebuilt as a rehearsal and events space. After a considerable amount of work, the building reopened at the end of 2002.

The following extract from the 1896 Ordnance Survey map shows the area covered by my father’s photo. Fann Street is to the lower left, Golden Lane runs from top to bottom to the right of the map and the outline of the school, with the distinctive bay, can be seen to the left of the upper part of Golden Lane.

Just above Fann Street are Little Arthur Street and Great Arthur Street, the street surfaces of these I suspect were in my father’s photo if I have my alignments correct. Whilst these streets have disappeared, the name can be found in a different context, which I will explain shortly.

Golden Lane Estate

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The following 1953 Ordnance Survey extract shows the same area as the above map and highlights the size of the area destroyed, mainly as a result of the fires created by the attack during the night of the 29th / 30th December 1940.

Golden Lane Estate

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Whilst Little Arthur Street and Great Arthur Street have disappeared, the name lives on in the form of Great Arthur House, which was built between 1953 and 1957 as part of the Golden Lane development, This is the building that is in the background of my photo from next to the Baltic Street School, looking back to where my father took the original photo. It must have been just to the right of where I was standing to take the photo below of Great Arthur House:

Golden Lane Estate

The architects of Great Arthur House were Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, and at completion, it was the tallest inhabited tower block in England. Built using reinforced concrete, the roof of the block has a rather distinctive, concrete canopy sweeping out from the block that accommodates the equipment rooms on the roof.

The roof of Great Arthur House was open during Open House weekend this year. I booked my visit on the Sunday – a day of cloud and rain following the sunny, blue sky Saturday, however the views from the roof of the building were brilliant, and provided another viewpoint  to compare the area with my father’s photo.

In the following photo the Baltic Street School / London College of Fashion building can be seen. The area once occupied by Richard Cloudesley School has been cleared ready for the construction of the new school. Basterfield House of the Golden Lane Estate runs in the foreground across the photo, and part of Hatfield House (a reminder of Hatfield Street that once ran in front of the school) is just visible, with the blue panels on the left of the photo.

Golden Lane Estate

Fascinating how the names of some of the streets destroyed by the bombing of 1940 and the subsequent construction of the Golden Lane Estate, have been retained in the names of the buildings.

The concrete canopy seen from the rooftop (and with raindrops on the camera lens):

Golden Lane Estate

The arched roof to the equipment room:

Golden Lane Estate

I was dodging showers whilst on the roof, but it was still a spectacular view. The following photo is looking across Golden Lane’s neighbour, the Barbican Estate with two of the estate’s towers. St Paul’s Cathedral can be seen to the left of the central tower. It is only from height that the  white domes that cover the roofs of the lower blocks of the Barbican Estate can really be appreciated.

Golden Lane Estate

Looking to the west and the BT Tower is still a very prominent building on the skyline.

Golden Lane Estate

Looking towards the City.

Golden Lane Estate

To the immediate right of the Barbican tower on the left is the old NatWest building (now Tower 42, but for me the original name is still the natural name). I remember when this tower was built, it was the highest and most prominent building in the City – a gleaming example of the expansion of the financial sector in the City. Today, the tower is overshadowed by the developments of 21st century, and at times seems almost to disappear.

I am pleased to have found the location of another of my father’s photos looking across the space now occupied by the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates.

I am pleased that some of the old street names can still be found in the buildings of the Golden Lane Estate, and that many of the buildings seen in the original photo still remain, including the wonderful Baltic Street School building.

What does worry me is the future of the building. It is currently occupied by the London College of Fashion, one of several sites the college operates across London.

In 2022, the London College of Fashion will consolidate all their London sites to a new campus at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. What will this mean for the building at Golden Lane, a building that has served an educational function for well over a hundred years? I just hope it is not converted to yet more expensive apartments.

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Queen Victoria Street – A 19th Century City Improvement

Queen Victoria Street is probably one of those London streets that you only walk along if you are going to one of the buildings that line the street, or using it as a short cut between Blackfriars, Mansion House and Bank.

The majority of people who come into contact with the street, probably cross the street when walking between the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral.

I have written previous posts about some of the sites alongside Queen Victoria Street, however a couple of my photos from 1982 prompted a walk along the full length of the street, and an attempt to get a better understanding of how the street was built, as one of the 19th century’s major attempts to relieve congestion in the City and provide faster east – west travel.

This was the view in 1982, looking up along Queen Victoria Street, with the decorative gates of the College of Arms on the left.

Queen Victoria Street

The same view in 2019 (although with some lighting difficulties due to the bright sun from the south).

Queen Victoria Street

In the 1982 photo, post war office blocks line the right side of the street, including the Salvation Army building closest to the camera. In the 2019 view, these buildings have been replaced with new buildings which show the change in architectural style that has predominated all recent City development, where a stone facade with windows has changed to a facade mainly of glass.

In the distance in 1982 is the office block that would later be replaced by 20 Fenchurch Street, the Walkie Talkie building seen in the 2019 photo.

The pavements on each site of the street have been widened and the letter box moved out further.

Looking down along Queen Victoria Street from roughly the same position, towards Blackfriars in 1982:

Queen Victoria Street

The same view in 2019 – not that much change really.

Queen Victoria Street

Opposite is the church of St Benet’s:

Queen Victoria Street

I explored this church a few years ago in my post on “The Lost Wharfs of Upper Thames Street and St. Benet’s Welsh Church”  and also the excavations of Baynard’s Castle and Roman foundations just south of the church.

The church today:

Queen Victoria Street

Queen Victoria Street was built to provide a wide and direct route from the major junction at the Bank and Mansion House directly down to Blackfriars Bridge and the Embankment.

In the following map extract, Queen Victoria Street is the street running from the junction at upper right, down towards Blackfriars Station and Bridge at lower left (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Queen Victoria Street

The construction of Queen Victoria Street resulted in the demolition of numerous buildings and streets. The book “A Dictionary of London” by Henry Harben (1918) provides a good description of the impact of the street:

“Construction recommended 1861 and provided for in Metropolitan Improvement Act, 1863. Opened 1871. Nearly two-thirds of a mile long.

Numerous courts and alleys, as well as streets of a larger extent, were swept away for its formation. Amongst those which had occupied the site previously were Five Foot Lane, Dove Court, Old Fish Street Hill, Lambeth Hill (part), Bennet’s Hill (part), St Peter’s Hill (part), Earl Street, Bristol Street, White Bear Alley, White Horse Court.

Considerable difficulties were experienced in the formation of the street owing to the steep gradients from Upper Thames Street to Cheapside. In some cases the existing streets had to be diverted in order to give additional length over which to distribute the differences in level. The net cost was over £1,000,000. Subways for gas and water were constructed under the street and house drains and sewers below these.”

There is no doubt that the new street was needed to support the ever-growing volume of traffic across the City, but all those lost names, although the remains of some can still be found. For example, Harben mentions Five Foot Lane. This is a name that in various spellings dates back to at least the fourteenth century with the first record of a Fynamoureslane. Later spellings included Finimore Lane, Fine Foote Lane, Fyve Foote Lane, Fyford Lane and Fye Foot Lane.

It is with this latter spelling that the lane can still be found – a narrow alley between new office blocks that leads from Queen Victoria Street down to Upper Thames Street.

The following extract from the 1847 Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London shows the area where Queen Victoria Street would later slice through the middle.

Queen Victoria Street

I have tried to show the approximate route of Queen Victoria Street by the red line in the following map:

Queen Victoria Street

The name of the new street, after Queen Victoria, was agreed in December 1869 when a meeting of the Metropolitan Board of Works were presented with a report recommending the name.

The Illustrated London News described the opening of Queen Victoria Street in November 1871:

“The ceremony of formally opening this new street, from Blackfriars Bridge to the Mansion House, was performed at half past three o’clock on Saturday afternoon. There was a procession of the officers and some members of the Metropolitan Board of Works and of the Corporation of the City headed by Colonel Hogg, Chairman of the Metropolitan Board, with the Lord Mayor, walking arm-in-arm, the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, and several of the Parliamentary representatives of the metropolitan boroughs. These walked from Blackfriars, along the newly made roadway from New Earl-street to Bennet’s-hill, which has not hitherto been passable, and thence along the first-made portion of the new street to the Mansion House.

Having arrived at the hustings erected on the triangular space at the side of the Mansion House, Colonel Hogg and the Lord Mayor briefly addressed the persons there assembled, reminding them of the various City and Metropolitan improvements which had been accomplished during the last ten or fifteen years – the Thames Embankment, the Holborn Viaduct, the rebuilding of Blackfriars Bridge and Westminster Bridge, the opening of Southwark Bridge, the Metropolitan Meat Market, Southwark-street, Garrick-street, Burdett-street, Commercial-road, the removal of Middle-row Holborn, The opening of Hamilton-place, Park-lane, the laying out of Finsbury Park and Southwark Park.”

The above text highlights that Queen Victoria Street had been built and opened in sections, with the lower part down to Blackfriars being the final section (that shown in my photo above looking down towards Blackfriars)

The final paragraph also shows how much change there was in London during the later decades of the 19th century. It was the work during these decades which has shaped so much of the city we see today.

The opening ceremony next to the Mansion House:

Queen Victoria Street

It was a brilliant sunny day when I walked Queen Victoria Street – the type of day when even a Victorian street built as a major through route looks fantastic. There are also some fascinating buildings along the street, although only a few buildings date from before the creation of the street.

This building is the Faraday building, once one of the major hubs for international and national telephone circuits and operator services.

Queen Victoria Street

The Faraday building is interesting as it is the only building (as far as I am aware), that has components of the first, fully automatic, electromagnetic telephone exchange, carved onto the facade of the building. See my post on the Faraday building for views of these.

South of the Faraday building is this lovely building, currently occupied by the Church of Scientology.

Queen Victoria Street

The building at 146 Queen Victoria Street dates from 1866, so was probably built as part of the development of the new street, possibly one of the first new buildings alongside Queen Victoria Street.

The building was by the London architect Edward I’Anson in the classical, Italian style for the British and Foreign Bible Society. The building is grade II listed.  I’Anson’s other London works included the Royal Exchange Buildings.

The next building south is one from well before the construction of the street. This is the church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe:

Queen Victoria Street

The church is at a higher level to the street. The extract from Harben mentioned one of the difficulties with construction of the streets being the steep gradient down to the river, and it is at places such as the church where this is still visible. The surrounding land could be leveled off towards the street, but this was obviously not possible with the church.

This end of Queen Victoria Street has always been a centre for Post Office / British Telecom infrastructure. The Faraday building being one of the first examples, and across the road is Baynard House, the 1970s brutalist offices and equipment building, built for British Telecom.

Queen Victoria Street

Baynard House is built on part of the site of Baynard Castle, hence the name.

Looking up along the facade of Baynard House:

Queen Victoria Street

The design of Baynard House included the post war concept of raised pedestrian walkways, separating pedestrians from streets and traffic. There is a rather underused walkway through Baynard House into Blackfriars Station.

In all the times I have used this route, I have not seen anyone walk to and from the station. It mainly seems to be used by smokers and those taking a break from the surrounding building.

Part of the walkway includes a large open space, with the rather intriguing state of the Seven Ages of Man, by Richard Kindersley from 1980.

Queen Victoria Street

The sculpture is based on the Shakespeare monologue from As You Like It, which begins with “All the world’s a stage” and then goes on to chart the stages of life from an infant to the point at the end of life where a person is “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Along the walkway there are views to Queen Victoria Street and down to the River Thames. The following photo is from the walkway looking along Castle Baynard Street.

Queen Victoria Street

The empty corridor leading up to Blackfriars Station:

Queen Victoria Street

The benefit of a raised walkway is that there are some different views than would be possible at street level. This photo looking across the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Puddle Dock, to St Andrew by the Wardrobe and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Queen Victoria Street

By chance, I found the following photo of the construction of Queen Victoria Street taken from a similar position. I should have been a bit further south, but there were no viewpoints, so the above photo is as close I could get.

Queen Victoria Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PZ_CT_02_1067

From the photo it looks as if a narrow section of street was open (this may have been the original Earl Street), whilst the main part of Queen Victoria Street was constructed.

In front of the church tower are some of the original buildings at the lower end of St Andrew’s Hill. These would later be replaced by the brick building facing onto the new street shown in my photo from the walkway.

There have been some major changes in the southern end of Queen Victoria Street since the original construction. The following photo is one of my father’s photos which I featured in one of my early posts.

Queen Victoria Street

The photo shows the original southern end of Queen Victoria Street, with Upper Thames Street merging from the rights.

The following photo from the 2014 post shows the same scene.

Queen Victoria Street

The pedestrian walkway ends up in Blackfriars station, but I had lots more to see in Queen Victoria Street, so it was down the stairs and back out onto the street, but not before admiring the destination panels from the original station.

Queen Victoria Street

These stone panels date from 1886, and were replaced in their current position after development work at the station.

The panels show continental destinations that were accessible from the station via a channel ferry. I love how very different destinations are next to each other: Herne Bay and Florence, Sheerness and Vienna, Westgate on Sea and St Petersburg.

Back out of the station and opposite the southern end of Queen Victoria Street.

Queen Victoria Street

Marked by one of my favourite central London pubs – the Black Friar:

Queen Victoria Street

The Black Friar was built around 1875, so not long after Queen Victoria Street opened. The pub was Grade II listed in 1972, which probably explains how the pub has survived the development of the area. The triangular shape of the building is down to an original street and the new street.

To the left of the pub is a short stub of a street leading to a dead-end. On maps this is currently named as Blackfriars Court, but was originally Water Lane. The plot of land originally extended further south to make a more rectangular plot, however Queen Victoria Street sliced through the lower part of this plot and created a triangular plot on which the Black Friar was built.

The Black Friar was not open yet, and I still had the northern part of Queen Victoria Street to walk, so I headed back to the location of my 1982 photos.

The edge of the College of Arms building appeared in my 1982, today much of the building was covered in sheeting to protect some restoration / building work.

Queen Victoria Street

The College of Arms was also impacted by the construction of Queen Victoria Street. Initial proposals for the route of the street called for the demolition of the whole building, however protests by the College Heralds resulted in the route of the new street moving a bit further south.

However even with the new route, parts of the two wings of the College of Arms were demolished, and the building was remodeled as a three-sided building, with shorter wings down to the new Queen Victoria Street.

The College of Arms building dates from after the Great Fire of London when the original building was destroyed.

The following print from 1768 shows the building before the late 19th century changes.

Queen Victoria Street

A short distance to the north is the place where St Peter’s Hill crosses Queen Victoria Street. During the day this is a rather busy crossing being on the direct tourist and walking route from the Millennium footbridge across the Thames up to St Paul’s Cathedral.

The view looking north:

Queen Victoria Street

And the view looking south with the chimney of Tate Modern / Bankside Power Station just visible.

Queen Victoria Street

At the point where the southern approach of St Peter’s Hill reaches Queen Victoria Street, there are a pair of steel gates.

I had not realised this before, but there is a name carved into the lower section of the gates which identify them as the HSBC Gates – presumably after the company that paid for them.

Queen Victoria Street

They were designed by the artist Sir Anthony Caro and installed as part of the development of the walkway at the time of the build of the Millennium Bridge,

A 2012 report by the City of London, Streets and Walkways Sub-Committee identified a number of problems with the walkway between the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s, and with maintaining the gates:

“Not originally designed and set out to deal with the numbers of people now using it,
this area has suffered a noticeable decline in the local environment since the
Millennium Bridge opened. The HSBC gates are often used for graffiti and urination
and require frequent cleaning and sticker removal.”

The point where St Peter’s Hill crosses Queen Victoria Street is probably the busiest point on the street.

Queen Victoria Street

Further north along the street is the church of St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey.

Queen Victoria Street

A church has been on the site since at least the 12th century. The church was badly damaged during 1940, along with much of the area south of St Paul’s Cathedral.

My father took the following photo in 1947 looking across Queen Victoria Street with the shell of the church (from my post on St Nicholas, Cole Abbey):Queen Victoria Street

Across the road from the church are Cleary Garden’s:

Queen Victoria Street

The gardens are not built on the site of a lost church or churchyard, as so many other City gardens. They are built on the site of houses destroyed during the Blitz. The garden was created by a shoemaker called Joe Brandis who started the garden in the rubble of destroyed buildings.

The name comes from Fred Cleary who was Chairman of The Corporation of the City of London’s Trees, Gardens and Open Spaces Committee for three decades prior to his death in 1984.

Fred Cleary’s involvement with the City of London Corporation resulted in many of the gardens that we see across the City today. He was a firm supporter of the need to create and maintain green spaces across the City, and as with the garden’s that carry his name, made good use of the many bomb sites, some of which had already the foundation of a garden, such as that created by Joe Brandis.

I have now reached the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Cannon Street. The tower is that of the church St Mary Aldermary.

Queen Victoria Street

Street name sign and boundary markers. the one on the left is unusual in that it has the names of the church wardens engraved presumably from the date of the marker in 1886.

Queen Victoria Street

Crossing the road junction and looking back along Queen Victoria Street, and on the right, between the street and Cannon Street is the distinctive form of 30 Cannon Street.

Queen Victoria Street

30 Cannon Street dates from 1977 and was by the architectural partnership of Whinney, Son and Austen Hall.

The building fits into a triangular plot of land – probably that shape after the creation of Queen Victoria Street cut through the lower triangular section of what had been a rectangular plot of land.

The shape of the windows, the rows of windows leading to the curved section facing onto the street junction, and the brilliant white of the material all help make this a stunning post war building.

The panels surrounding the windows are made from glass fibre reinforced cement – the first building to use this material.

If you also look along the sides of the building, it appears to bow out towards the street. which is down to the 5 degree outward lean of each window section.

Floors 1 to 4 have the window arches at the top of each window, but look at the top floor and the arch is upside down with the side legs of the arch around each window facing upwards.

The building is Grade II listed, the justification being the design, usie of innovative materials and the way in which the building integrates with the remaining Victorian buildings around the junction – a justification with which I fully agree.

I have now reached the northern end of Queen Victoria Street, where the street runs up to the major junction by the Mansion House and Bank of England.

The building in the photo below is the City of London Magistrates Court with the address of 1 Queen Victoria Street, so the street starts here.

Queen Victoria Street

This was the location of the opening ceremony shown in the print earlier on in this post. In both photo and print, a corner of the Mansion House can just be seen.

And in the photo below I am at the very end of Queen Victoria Street, looking towards the heart of the City, and the major junction where Lombard Street, Cornhill, Threadneedle Street , Princes Street and Poultry all meet.

Queen Victoria Street

Standing here, the need for the construction of Queen Victoria Street becomes clear. The street provides a direct route from the heart of the City to the station at Blackfriars, and for traffic it also offers a quick route across the river via Blackfriars Bridge, and to the west along that other Victorian engineering marvel, the Embankment.

However it is also a sad loss of all the small streets and alleys that once covered this section of the City, and were swept away by Victorian improvements. Also the archaeological remains that may have been lost as I suspect the Victorians were more interested in getting the street completed, than investigating what lay below the ground.

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London Stone Upnor, Rochester Castle and Cathedral and Cooling Church

A couple of week’s ago, I wrote about the Crow and London Stones that marked the boundary on the Essex and Kent coasts of the City of London’s jurisdiction over the River Thames.

The City of London also claimed part of the River Medway. This ran from the southern end of Yantlet Creek to a point at Lower Upnor just to the east of Rochester. Lower Upnor also has stones marking the City’s claim, so I went to find these stones, and also took the opportunity to visit a number of other sites in north Kent, and understand how London has influenced the development of this part of Kent.

The following map shows the City’s boundaries on the River Thames and River Medway, and the other places I will visit in this post (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors)..

Rochester Castle

The upper red line shows the City of London’s boundary between the Crow Stone at Southend and the London Stone at Yantlet Creek at the Isle of Grain.

Yantlet Creek did provide a navigable route between the Thames and Medway, and it is this short cut that seems to have formed the basis for the City’s claim over part of the Medway.

The eastern boundary on the Medway was from the southern end of Yantlet Creek to the opposite shore, as shown by the lower red line.

The western boundary on the Medway was at Lower Upnor, a short distance before Rochester, see the short red line on the map. This was where the City of London’s claim over the Medway met the Liberty of Rochester.

The lower black circle on the map highlights the location of Rochester which I will visit in this post, and the upper black circle covers the church of St James at Cooling which I will also visit.

Lower Upnor London Stone

My first stop was at Lower Upnor to find the City of London’s boundary stones:

Rochester Castle

There are two stones marking the City of London’s western boundary at Lower Upnor, on the roadway alongside the River Medway. The smaller stone to the right in the above photo is a footpath marker.

The stone at the rear is the older of the boundary markers and is believed to date from the 18th century.

The year 1204 is carved at the top of the stone. The refers to the original charter which granted rights over the River Thames, given by King John to the City of London, although the charter was dated a couple of years before 1204.

Rochester Castle

The City of London’s crest is also on the front of the stone, and on the rear is the legend “God Preserve the City of London”.

Rochester Castle

This section of the Medway has a rather strange history, and at times it was a very contentious issue that the City of London regarded the stretch from Yantlet Creek to Lower Upnor as within their jurisdiction.

As one point, a local landowner’s name was carved into the boundary marker stone to replace the City’s claims. This was discovered on one of the routine visits of the Lord Mayor to the stone, to re-assert the City’s claims.

The following print is dated 1830 and is titled “View of Upnor Castle near Chatham, Kent, with boats on the River Thames and figures on the river bank in the foreground“.  Upnor Castle is further to the west of the boundary stone, close to Rochester, yet the print references this being on the River Thames.

Rochester Castle

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: k124617x

Although in Southend, the older stone was removed when a replacement was installed, at Lower Upnor, the new 1836 pillar was installed adjacent to the 18th century pillar which was left in place.

Rochester Castle

The visits of the Lord Mayor of the City of London to the Lower Upnor stones seem to be even more theatrical than their visits to the stones at Southend and Yantlet. Possibly this was down to the dubious claim of the City of London over the waters of the Medway, and therefore the need to make this claim very visible and impressive to the citizens of Rochester.

The following text is part of a report from the Illustrated London News on the 21st July, 1849 detailing the visit of the Lord Mayor and representatives of the City to Rochester and Lower Upnor. The report lists the number and roles of City representatives who attended the ceremony at the boundary stone and illustrates the impression the event must have given to the people of Rochester.

The City representatives had already been to Southend, and on the ship across from Southend to Rochester (during which there had been dancing), we now join them in Rochester:

“Shortly after ten o’clock, the Mayor and Corporation of Rochester proceeded to the Crown Hotel; and the Recorder having briefly stated the object of their visit, introduced severally to the Lord Mayor, the members of the Corporation. His Lordship expressed the gratification he felt at receiving the Mayor and Corporation of Rochester; and, after a brief address, invited them to dine with him that evening, and then introduced the members of the Corporation of London.

At the conclusion of the visit, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, accompanied by their guests, proceeded on board the steamer down the Medway, and shortly after anchored opposite Cockham Wood, near Upnor Castle, where the City boundary-stone is erected. The Lord Mayor and Aldermen landed, attended by the civic officers, and a procession was formed in the following order:-

  • Police Officers
  • Six Watermen in state liveries, with colours
  • The Band
  • The Lord Mayor’s Bargemaster in state livery, bearing the City Colours
  • City Marshal in uniform
  • The Engineer of the Thames Navigation and Port of London Committee
  • The Water-Bailiff
  • The Sword-bearer
  • The Right Hon, the Lord Mayor
  • The Aldermen (seniors first)
  • The Sheriffs
  • City Officers
  • Six Watermen in state liveries, with colours
  • Police Offices

Having made the circuit of the stone three times, his Lordship directed the City colours and the state sword to be placed thereon, asserting his right to the jurisdiction, as Conservator of the River Thames and waters of the Medway, by charter, prescription, and usage confirmed to, and enjoyed by, the City of London from time immemorial; and directed the Water-Bailiff, as his sub-conservator, to have the date of his Lordship’s visit duly inscribed on the stone. His Lordship then gave as a toast, the ancient inscription on the boundary-stone, ‘God preserve the City of London’. The band played the National Anthem, amidst the shouts of a large number of spectators who had assembled to witness the ceremony, and who were delighted by a distribution of wine, and some coin being scattered amongst them. 

The colours were placed upon the stone by Mr J. Bishop of St. Benet’s Hill, Doctors’ Commons.

The civic party returned to the steam-vessel, which then continued its progress down the Medway. On arriving off Sheerness, the company went on board Her Majesty’s ship Ocean, the guard-ship. where they were received with great courtesy; the Lord Mayor’s band, which accompanied them on board, playing the National Anthem and Rule Britannia. The Lord Mayor having also visited the Wellington, by steamer returned up the Medway, and reached Rochester in time for his Lordship to receive his guests at the Crown Hotel, facing the bridge.”

No idea how much these visits must have cost, however the expenditure in re-asserting the City’s rights must have been considerable.

The following print shows the City of London’s party at the Lower Upnor boundary stone. Upnor Castle is in the near distance. The steam-ship Meteor is lying offshore.

Rochester Castle

This print is titled “The distribution of money”, part of the ceremony at the boundary stone as money was distributed to the local citizens, although it seems to be basically throwing coins into a fighting scrum of people.

Rochester Castle

The visit in 1949 was by Sir James Duke, the Lord Mayor of the City of London between 1848 and 1849. In the report above, the water-bailiff is instructed to have the date of the Mayor’s visit carved on the stone, and we can still see this today towards the base of the pillar.

Rochester Castle

The following photo shows the view eastwards from the pillar along the River Medway in the direction of Yantlet Creek. It was these waters over which the City of London claimed jurisdiction.

Rochester Castle

These stones, along with the stones at Southend and Yantlet Creek mark the eastern boundaries of the City of London’s claimed jurisdiction.

Whilst I can understand the City’s claim along the River Thames, standing at Lower Upnor and looking out over the River Medway, the City’s claim over this river does seem rather stretched and I am not surprised that the regular visits to reinforce the claim were as theatrical as the 1849 description.

I suspect that whilst the civic authorities in Rochester participated, they were not particularly happy with the City of London approaching almost up to their town.

To follow in the Lord Mayor of London’s footsteps, it was to Rochester that I headed next.

Rochester Castle and Cathedral

Rochester is a lovely town, and one that I have not visited enough. An impressive Norman Castle and a beautiful Cathedral, along with a High Street of historic buildings make this a place worth spending more than a few hours exploring.

At the north western tip of the town is Rochester Castle, despite being almost 1,000 years old, it is still a domineering structure, built to overlook the River Medway and river crossing. This is the view of the castle from in front of the Cathedral.

Rochester Castle

As well as wanting to explore the town, I had a specific reason to visit Rochester as my father had taken a photo of the castle in 1952 from across the river. I could not get to the same place as there was construction work along the road from where the following photo was taken, however it does show how the castle appeared to anyone travelling along the river, and the nearby river crossing.

Rochester Castle

The original castle was constructed during the 1080s by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, and consisted of an earth mound and timber ring work fortification. The Great Keep dates from the 12th century when Henry I granted the castle to the Archbishop of Canterbury, on condition that the Archbishop constructed a stone castle.

Bishop Gundulf has a London connection as he was appointed by King William I to oversee the construction of the White Tower at the Tower of London.

Rochester dates from Roman times when it was the town of Durobrivae, built on an important crossing over the River Medway for a road from London to east Kent. The Norman fort was constructed for the same reasons as the Roman town, in that it protected the route from London to Dover, the channel ports and therefore to the Continent.

The Great Keep is today still a remarkable structure and apparently is the tallest such building in Europe.

Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle was involved in a couple of sieges during the 13th century. Firstly when the castle was occupied by William de Aubigny and Robert Fitzwalter, as part of the Baron’s revolt against King John. The castle was put under siege by King John who ordered that tunnels were dug under the castle walls and keep. Fires were then set to burn the timber props within the tunnels leading to the destruction of part of the castle walls and a corner of the keep.

The second siege was when the castle was held by Royalist forces in support of King Henry III , who were defending the castle during the second Barons Revolt when Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester attempted to take the castle.

The defenders held out to the point where Simon de Montfort had to withdraw.

From the mid 16th century, the castle started to fall into decline, as a defensive position adjacent to the Medway river crossing was by now redundant. Stone was robbed from the castle to build nearby Upnor Castle (which was needed to defend Royal Navy moorings on the River Medway from attack by French ships). A later fire and general deterioration furthered the decay of the castle, until it was purchased in 1884 by the Corporation of Rochester and it was opened to the public.

The interior of the keep is today open to the elements and consists of the surrounding walls and a central wall that divided the keep into two sections.

Rochester Castle

Although only the walls remain, it is very clear from the architecture, carvings, holes cut into the walls to support floors etc. that this must have been an incredibly impressive structure.

Rochester Castle

Walkway along the top of the castle:

Rochester Castle

Which provides some brilliant views over the surrounding countryside.

In the photo below is the key river crossing over the River Medway. A crossing here dates from Roman times when the road from London onward to Canterbury and the channel ports crossed the river at this point. The importance of the crossing is the reason for Rochester’s location and the justification for the castle, built to defend the crossing.

Rochester Castle

The castle provides some magnificent views of Rochester Cathedral, which was my next stop in my exploration of Rochester:

Rochester Castle

On walking into the Cathedral I was greeted with a rather surprising sight. The nave had been taken over by a mini golf installation, arranged for charity, and there were families with children playing golf in a most unusual setting. The following photo is the view along the nave, above the heads of the golf players.

Rochester Castle

The earliest church in Rochester dates from 604, when King Ethelbert donated land for a church.

Building of the Cathedral we see today was commenced in 1083 by the same Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester who was responsible for the construction of the first castle.

The nave was the first part of the Cathedral to be completed, with consecration of the cathedral in 1130 in front of King Henry I.

The cathedral was badly damaged during the sieges of the castle in the 13th century, and there was further restoration work and building during the following centuries. The cathedral was damaged again during the Civil War by Parliamentarian soldiers.

George Gilbert Scott carried out major restoration work during the late 19th century and the present tower and spire were dedicated in 1904.

Rochester Castle

Rochester Cathedral has a remarkable wall painting, only part of which survives. This is the Wheel of Fortune dating from the 1200s.

Rochester Castle

The missing part of the painting was destroyed during the Civil War. It was then covered by a Pulpit and only discovered again during 19th century restoration work.

The Wheel of Fortune was a common medieval representation of how a rise in status in society could just as swiftly be followed by a fall. The women in the middle, controlling the wheel is Fortuna. The three men holding on to the wheel represent those at different levels of success within life. The man at the top of the wheel is wealthy and powerful.

The two men on the left are working their way up in life, starting from the lowest level of society at the bottom of the wheel.

The man at the top of the wheel is sitting down, an indication that he has reached the peak of society, however he is looking to the right, possibly where a warning to the powerful would be seen. Based on similar representations, on the right of the painting there would have been a man falling to the bottom of the wheel – a warning that no matter how rich and powerful you become, the risk of a fall to the lowest levels of society are always lurking in the background.

A powerful Medieval representation, but one that is also very relevant today.

There are numerous interesting memorials across the cathedral. This one was unusual with a hand originally pointing to the seal of office of Frederick Hill, who was responsible for “Providing for His Majesty’s Sick and Wounded Seamen at this Port. So Fair, So Just, Such His Love and Care for them”. A reminder of Rochester and nearby Chatham, along with the River Medway’s part in supporting the Royal Navy over the centuries.

Rochester Castle

Part of the Crypt:

Rochester Castle

This remarkable door is the entrance to the Cathedral Library.

Rochester Castle

When Henry VIII dissolved the priory attached to the cathedral, the books in the library were taken into the King’s own collection, and then into the Royal Collection and the British Library, however a number of the books have since returned to the library at Rochester.

The detail of each carved figure is fascinating, and show the level of craftsmanship that went into the Cathedral in the 14th century.

Rochester Castle

Gardens to the south of the cathedral mark the original location of the priory attached to the cathedral, and the chapter house.

Rochester Castle

Original 12th and early 13th century walls surround the gardens.

Rochester Castle

This archway originally led to the 12th century Chapter House. After the dissolution, the chapter house had briefly become part of a Royal Palace for King Henry VIII, however the roof was later removed and it fell into decay.

Rochester Castle

Although worn by centuries of weathering, it is still evident how ornate and carefully carved these walls, arches and doorways were from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Rochester High Street

Rochester High Street retains the look and feel of an important, provincial town. A straight, relatively narrow road runs along the centre of the High Street, leading originally from the crossing over the River Medway (there is now a wider road bypassing the centre of the town).

The High Street is lined by a variety of architectural styles from the last few centuries and the buildings support a variety of shops and businesses, fortunately, many still local.

Rochester Castle

In the above photo, on the left, is the type of shop that always damages my credit card. Baggins Book Bazaar is one of the most remarkable second-hand bookshops I have been in for a long time. A standard shop front, but once inside, the bookshop extends a long way back and offers multiple levels stacked high with books – I came out with several.

The building in the following photo was erected in 1706 “at the sole charge and expense of Sir Cloudsley Shovel” who represented Rochester as MP during three Parliaments in the reign of King William III and one Parliament during the reign of Queen Anne.

Rochester Castle

The following rather plain looking building has an interesting history.

Rochester Castle

The building has the name Abdication House and the plaque on the front provides the background as “King James II of England stayed at the house as a guest of Sir Richard Head before embarking for France on the 23rd December 1688 when he finally left England”.

The following building is the site of the French Hospital Almshouses.

Rochester Castle

The Almshouses were founded in 1718 for “poor French protestants and their descendants residing in Great Britain”.

This was a quick run through Rochester High Street – there are many more buildings that tell the history of the area and the importance of Rochester as a town. The above examples – King James II before leaving for France, and the almshouses for protestant refugees arriving from France highlight Rochester’s’ role as a gateway town, where people would leave and enter the country, with one of the main roads to London running through the town providing easy access to the capital, alongside the River Medway.

There was one final place that I wanted to visit whilst in this part of Kent.

St James Church, Cooling

North of Rochester on the Hoo Peninsula is the village of Cooling and it was St. James Church that was my intended destination.

Rochester Castle

Cooling church was the inspiration for the setting of the encounter between Pip and Magwitch in the opening of Charles Dickens book Great Expectations. In the book Dickens describes the area:

“Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea.”

The river is still visible from the churchyard, flat fields and marshes provide an unobstructed view, although the traffic and business on the river is now very different to anything that Dickens could have seen, or expected.

Rochester Castle

The large container ships docked at the new London Gateway port are clearly visible to the north. A very different form of transport to Dickens’ time, but the river is still a major artery for seaborne trade in and out of the country.

My visit was during a warm and sunny day, very different to the “bleak place overgrown with nettles” on a “raw afternoon towards evening” as described in Great Expectations. It must be a very different place on a late winter’s afternoon, with rain and wind blowing in from the east, along the Thames estuary and across the Hoo Peninsula.

Among the graves surrounding the church are a tragic collection of small graves that were well-known to Dickens.

These are the graves of babies and children from the Baker and Comport families who died between 1771 and 1779. Three of the children died around the age of one month. The graves are a very visible demonstration of the dreadful infant mortality rates that must have inflicted terrible anguish on parents in the centuries before the standards of health we perhaps take for granted today.

They are lined up in what Dickens described as ” little stone lozenges each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their (parents) graves”.

Rochester Castle

Ten smaller graves are on one side of the headstone and three larger graves are on the other side.

Rochester Castle

The church of St. James’ Cooling dates from the 13th century. It is no longer an active church, and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust

The interior of the church is open and the white walls provide an impression of light and space. The following photo is looking along the nave, with the 13th century font in the foreground.

Rochester Castle

The pulpit dates from the 18th century, and in common with nearly all churches, there was 19th century restoration work, the majority of the church dates from between the 13th and 15th centuries.

Rochester Castle

The wooden door on the right of the photo below is around 500 years old, and there are benches that possibly date from the 14th century.Rochester Castle

The Churches Conservation Trust now offers the opportunity to stay overnight at St James Church, Cooling on one of their “Champing” experiences. I would rather like to do that on a wet and windy night.

This has been a very quick tour of a number of fascinating sites, and I have not been able to do justice to them in a single post, but there is a theme to these sites.

It is how London’s influence extends far wider than just the City. The boundary markers at Lower Upnor tell of how the City of London tried to exert authority over a much wider area than just the River Thames.

Rochester is a town that probably owes its existence to being on the site where the road from the channel coast and Canterbury to London crossed the River Medway. A crossing that dates back almost 2,000 years to the time of the Roman occupation of Britain.

The exception is St James, Cooling, however the church connects in some ways to the River Thames as the church has seen the changes in river traffic over many hundreds of years.

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Emerson Stairs, Bankside

The south bank of the River Thames has changed dramatically over the years, from an industrial environment, to one of leisure, culture and expensive housing. For much of the south bank, from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge, there is very little evidence of these pre-war industries, and their close relationship with the river.

As with much of the Thames as it if flows through the city, this stretch of the river was lined with numerous stairs, providing access to the river from the streets and buildings that ran alongside. It is still possible to find many of these, but there is one lost set of stairs that are the subject of this week’s post – searching for Emerson Stairs in Bankside.

This is one of my father’s post war photos of the south bank:

Emerson Stairs

At first glance, there is not much in the above photo to identify the location today, but there are many pointers which I will explain as I work through the post, but as a starter, this is the same scene today:

Emerson Stairs

The perspective is slightly different between the two photos, as my father was in a boat on the Thames, and I was standing on Southwark Bridge, but the area covered is much the same in the two photos.

The main clue to the location in the original photo is on the sign on the large building in the centre of the photo, which in fading lettering identifies the name as Emerson Wharf.

This building is on the site that would become the Globe Theatre, and in the following photo I have added some of the key landmarks and features visible in the photo:

Emerson Stairs

And in the photo below I have added the location of the original buildings to the 2019 photo:

Emerson Stairs

The only features that remain today are the old houses at 49 Bankside and on the opposite side of Cardinal Cap Alley, although these are behind the trees in the 2019 photo.

The original Bankside Power Station, which was a longer, but thinner building to the 1950s replacement (now Tate Modern) is behind Emerson Wharf, and all the infrastructure between power station and river, including the coal conveyor belt which can be seen in the original photo, have long gone.

One of my many side projects is tracing all the Thames stairs, and in the centre of the photo there is a new one for me to add to the list.

Just visible are a set of stairs leading down from the river, from a small cut into the embankment, and there appears to be a couple of  people sitting on the stairs looking out over the river. I have labelled the stairs in the original photo above.

The following photo is an enlarged extract from the original photo showing the stairs (the best quality image I could get from a 72 year old 35 mm negative):

Emerson Stairs

The map below is an extract from the 1951 edition of the Ordnance Survey map for the same area as in the photo.

Emerson Stairs

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The river and “mud and shingle” of the foreshore runs along the top of the map.

Bankside Power Station is the large block towards the left of the map running from top to bottom. The words “overhead conveyor” on the map between power station and river refer to the conveyor partly visible in my father’s photo.

Bankside runs along the river’s edge from left to right.

To the right of centre of the photo there is a street running from Bankside down to the bottom of the map – this is Emerson Street. Look where Emerson Street meets Bankside, then just above, to the left, there is a small cut into the embankment, and the symbol of some stairs reaching down to the river.

These are the same stairs as seen in my father’s photo – Emerson Stairs, leading from the junction of Emerson Street and Bankside, down into the river.

The 1950 edition of the Survey of London – Volume XXII Bankside – provides a source for the name Emerson Street and the associated stairs:

“During the reign of Elizabeth, part of Axe Yard was the property of the Emerson family, William Emerson, died in 1575. His monument in Southwark Cathedral has the succinct epitaph ‘he lived and died an honest man’. His son, Thomas (died 1595) founded one of the parish charities and gave his name to Emerson Street.”

There is a plan of Bankside, dating from 1618, drawn to support a lawsuit over access to Bankside, and in the left of this plan there is a rectangular plot of land labelled ‘Mr Emmerson’s’. The River Thames in the plan is on the right, with Bankside running from top to bottom of the map alongside the river.

Emerson Stairs

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: COL_CCS_PL_01_205_26

There is though a bit of a mystery concerning the location and name of the stairs.

I could not find too many mentions of Emerson Stairs. The following newspaper report (London Evening Standard, 6th August 1880) is typical of the few references I could find, where the stairs are used as a reference point on the river:

CORONERS’ INQUESTS – Mr W. Carter, Coroner for the eastern Division of Surrey, held an inquest at the Woolpack, Gravel-lane, yesterday, on the body of John Thomas Glue, 16 years of age. who was drowned  in the Thames on Friday last while bathing off Old Barge House Stairs, Upper ground-street, Blackfriars. Thomas Style, who accompanied the deceased for the purpose of bathing, said the deceased swam out some ten or eleven yards, and suddenly called out that he had the cramp, and cried for help. he tried to turn, but was carried down by the rapidity of the current, and sunk under a barge that was moored close at hand. There were a number of others in the water, but at too great a distance to render him any help. Witness packed up the deceased’s clothing and handed them to the police – G.J. Jeffery, Fireman No. 91. picked up the body between Southwark bridge and Emerson Stairs and gave it into the charge of Police-constable 103 M. who had it conveyed to the mortuary.”

Stairs leading down to the River Thames have often been in existence for many centuries, so I checked John Rocque’s map of London from 1746. The map extract below shows roughly the same area, but where Emerson Street was located in the 1951 map, there is a street named Thames Street, with a set of stairs at the end of the street called New Thames Street Stairs.

Emerson Stairs

So was this the original name of the street and stairs?

Emerson Street is the name on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, however earlier than this, there seems to be a dual use of Emerson and Thames Street back to around 1880, with Thames Street being the name used prior to 1880.

An example of the use of Thames Street is from multiple reports on the 13th December 1845 about a very high tide that caused significant damage all along the Thames:

“LAMENTABLE EFFECTS OF THE HIGH TIDE – The publicans in Thames Street, Bankside, and so on to Westminster and Lambeth, had their cellars filled with water. The Commercial Road, Lambeth and Belvidere-road, were all under water, and in the later road the cellars were filled. Searle’s the boat builders premises, the glass house and wharfs between the latter place and Bishop’s-walk were flooded to a depth of several feet. the road to Lambeth Church was impassable. The tide rushed under the gates of the Archbishop’s Palace, filling the gardens and approaches to the house. In Fore-street, High-street, and Ferry street, the licences victuallers and other have sustained great losses, and the landlady of the Duke’s Head, in Fore-street estimates her loss at £200.”

So, my assumption was that during the 1880s, Thames Street was renamed to Emerson Street, with the stairs also taking on the Emerson name.

I then checked the Layers of London website to overlay the Rocque map on the 1950s Ordnance Survey map to confirm, but here it got confusing.

The overlay of these maps appeared to show that Thames Street and New Thames Street Stairs were a short distance to the west of Emerson Street and Stairs. Indeed, the road at the south of Emerson Street, Park Street also looks to be in a slightly different position when comparing the two maps.

Returning to a slightly wider view of the Ordnance Survey map, and comparing with the Rocque map, the position of Emerson Street and Thames Street appear the same. The alignment of Maid Lane, and its future name of Park Street look roughly the same, leading down to what would become the junction with Sumner Street.

Emerson Stairs

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

And comparing with the street layout of today, this looks the same, however Emerson Street has undergone yet another name change. The section north from Park Street to Bankside is now called New Globe Walk – a relatively recent name change to go with the build of the Globe Theatre on what was Emerson Wharf (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Emerson Stairs

So I suspect that Thames Street and New Thames Street Stairs changed name to Emerson Street and Emerson Stairs at some point in the 1880s. They were the same streets, and the mapping between the Rocque and Ordnance Survey maps on the Layers of London site is slightly out at this point – which is only to be expected given the lack of precise mapping and recording techniques available to Roqcue in the mid 18th century.

The name Emerson Street is retained on the southern section from Park Street to Sumner Street, so a reference to the 16th century Thomas Emerson can still be found in Bankside.

There is a report of an inspection by the St. Saviours Board of Works into the condition of Thames stairs and landing places in November 1866. This report includes Thames Street Stairs, but also lists all those within their responsibility and provides names of some that remain, and some lost:

“The committee had made an inspection of the following water-side passages or ways in the district through which the board possessed a right of way – viz: Primrose-alley, St. Mary Overie’s Dock, St. Mary Overie’s Stairs, Horse-shoe-alley Stairs, Rose-alley, Bankside, Thames-street Stairs, Mason’s Stairs, Love-lane Stairs, Clark’s-alley, Rennie’s gateway, Marygold Passage and Stairs, Bull-alley Passage and Barge-house Alley and Stairs, in most of which obstructions, nuisances, &c, existed, which required to be attended to. Referred back to the committee.”

The list of names gives an indication of the number of stairs and alleys there were leading to the river, and there are some intriguing names, Obstructions and nuisances also lets the imagination roam over what river side life was like, and the activities that went on at these stairs and passages, on the border between land and river.

The references I have found name the stairs Thames Street Stairs, rather than New Thames Street Stairs as referenced in Rocque’s map. The use of the word “New” in 1746 is either an error, or implies these stairs replaced a previous set of stairs with the same name – one for my endless list of things I still want to research.

So what does the area look like today?

The following photo is from Bankside, looking down New Globe Walk / Emerson Street / Thames Street.

Emerson Stairs

Part of the street now has restricted vehicle access and the Globe Theatre now occupies the space on the western corner.

This is the view looking up towards the river at the junction of New Globe Walk / Emerson Street / Thames Street with Bankside. The stairs would have been roughly in front of where the red life buoy can be seen.

Emerson Stairs

The stairs were located where Bankside Pier now stands. The pier is directly opposite New Globe Walk and provides access to the passenger ferries that run along the Thames, so although the stairs have disappeared, the same location continues to be used as a means of accessing craft on the river.

Although Emerson Stairs have gone, there are still stairs down to the river at Bankside. A short distance to the west from Bankside Pier are these stairs leading down to the foreshore.

Emerson Stairs

These are new stairs, built as part of the re-development of Bankside, however there is perhaps a historical reference for these stairs.

Looking back at the Rocque map, and just to the west of New Thames Street Stairs are Goat Stairs. Align these with Maid Lane in 1746 and Park Street in 2019 and they are in a similar position (although perhaps a bit too far to the west, depending on the accuracy of the 1746 map).

Goat Stairs are not found on the Ordnance Survey maps, so these were lost much earlier, however the new stairs are a good reminder of the old stairs that once connected Bankside with the river.

Emerson Stairs

From the foreshore by the stairs we can look back at Bankside Pier, the location of Emerson / Thames Street Stairs.

Emerson Stairs

Invisible from the walkway along the river, but visible down on the foreshore, the word BANKSIDE calls out to those on the river and on the opposite shore.

Emerson Stairs

The history of the stairs that line the River Thames is fascinating. I have written about a number before including Alderman Stairs, Old Swan Stairs and Horselydown Old Stairs.

I can now add Emerson Stairs / Thames Street Stairs to the list, and I have many more to go.

Stairs are simple structures, but it is their role as a reference point on the river, and a route crossing the boundary between land and river that is so fascinating.

There are numerous stories about events at these stairs, a couple of which I have already mentioned. Many stories highlight a tragedy and the challenges of life in London – such is the nature of news reporting. One particular report from the 29th May 1842 demonstrated the impact on women of the daily struggle to support a family, and how this came to a tragic conclusion at Thames Street Stairs:

” SUICIDE – On Friday a suicide was committed at the Thames Street Stairs, Bankside, by a respectable married woman, named Firmin, the wife of a lighterman, residing in the Commercial road, Lambeth. Her husband, having occasion to go to work about three o’clock in the morning, left the deceased in bed, and soon afterwards she got up, and having dressed herself, went to the above stairs, and getting on to some barges alongside threw herself into the river. A watchman on the opposite side immediately gave an alarm, and the body was got out of the water, but life was quite extinct. The deceased had been married about twenty two years, and was the mother of eighteen children. Not the slightest reason can be assigned for the committal of the rash act.”

I suspect the reason for the so called ‘rash act’, may have been the challenge of providing for and supporting the family mentioned in the second to last sentence – the stress of supporting a family with eighteen children on a lighterman’s wages must have been enormous.

One final point before finishing this post, the 1950’s Ordnance Survey map shows a number of circles marked “hoppers” in the space between the Emerson Wharf building and Emerson Street.

These are not visible in my father’s photo which was taken in 1947, but they were installed a couple of years later as shown in the photo below taken by my father in 1949 from the north bank of the river, which also provides a good view of the river facing side of Emerson Wharf (the hoppers are slightly left of centre).

Emerson Stairs

I suspect that when the hoppers were added, there was an expectation that industrial life would continue as it had done, however changes in river usage, and the closure of industry along the river in the decades following my father’s photo would end with the scene we see today with the Globe Theatre occupying Emerson Wharf, and the Bankside Pier providing access to the river, in place of Emerson Stairs.

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Cripplegate Institute and Jewin Crescent

For this week’s post I am back in the Barbican, exploring Cripplegate with another of my father’s photos showing the area in 1947.

The church of St Giles provided a very clear landmark in last week’s photo, but when I first scanned the photo for this week’s post, there were no obvious landmarks or points of reference to help with identification.

Cripplegate

I always look for any building that may still be there today. In the above photo, all the buildings in the foreground have been demolished, apart from one, which looks badly damaged and will also probably be demolished.

There is the paved surface of a street just above where my father was standing.

Many of the buildings in the background do appear damaged, although there are a couple that appear to have minimal if any damage, so could possibly remain today if they were not demolished for the Barbican development.

One building had a rather distinctive design, and also looked in good condition. I have marked this building in the photo below:

Cripplegate

An enlargement from the original photo showing the distinctive features of this building:

Cripplegate

After much checking on Google StreetView, followed up by walking the area, I found the same building. It now has a roof extension, but the external features are identical to those in the 1947 photo. This is the building of the old Cripplegate Institute on the corner of Cripplegate Street and Golden Lane.

Cripplegate

I now needed to track down where my father was standing, and the location of the building in the cleared area. As ever, the Ordnance Survey maps held by the National Library of Scotland provided further evidence.

The following extract is from a post war Ordnance Survey map.

Cripplegate

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

St Giles church is shown to the bottom right. The Cripplegate Institute is marked as a Library (it served multiple purposes which I will explain later in the post) towards the top of the map.

In the centre of the map, there is an empty area, with hashed lines for streets. This is the area demolished after the fires and bombing of the war.

There is one building still marked, a rectangle on what was Jewin Crescent, just above the ‘F’ of Fire Station. Could this be the large building in my father’s photo?

Between where my father was standing and the derelict building, there appears to be two streets. The first is easy to see, the second is a little distance back. This second street cannot be Jewin Crescent as it is not up against the derelict building. I therefore suspect that my father was standing at roughly the point marked where my red lines converge in the map extract.

This street, next to where my father was standing, was Edmund Place.

The alignment of the derelict building and the Cripplegate Institute / Library look right (centre arrow) and the arrows at the side show the approximate field of view in the 1947 photo.

I found some more evidence to confirm from the London Metropolitan Archive, Collage collection. In the following photo we can see the same derelict building that appears in my father’s photo, however now we can clearly see the crescent shaped street, and the location of the building at a street junction, exactly as shown in the map extract.

Cripplegate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0020321CL

It is hard to imagine just how densely built these streets were prior to the destruction of 1940. My father’s photos show large areas of empty space, occupied only by cellars, low walls and the remains of paved streets.

Jewin Crescent was a relatively narrow street with tall buildings on either side. It was originally named simply “The Crescent”, but took on the name jewin Crescent in 1878.

The destruction of 1940 was not the first time that fire had damaged a large area of Cripplegate. On the 19th November 1897, another large fire destroyed much of Cripplegate. The following text is from the start of an article from the London Daily News on the 22nd November 1897 titled “The Terrible Fire – Acres of Ruins – Plans To Relief Sufferers – Four Thousand Persons Out Of Work – Narrow Escape of Firemen”  which gives some idea of the scale of the fire:

“Yesterday crowds of persons from all parts of London  visited the scene of the disastrous fire in the City to view all that remained of the warehouses and factories which were burned out on Friday. The police, who were again on duty in strong force, had the greatest difficulty in keeping the people back from the approaches to the ruined district, and all traffic in Aldersgate Street had to be suspended. It now appears that the thoroughfares affected more or less by the fire are seventeen in number, as follows: Hamsell-street, Well-street, Jewin-street, Jewin-crescent, Redcross-street, Monkwell-street, Edmund=place, Bradford-avenue, Australian-avenue, Nicholl-square, maidenhead-court, Fore-street, Paul’s Alley, Wood-street-square, Falcon-square, Hart-street and Peel-street.

It was on Saturday definitely discovered that the fire broke out at 15, Well-street, in the occupation of Messrs. Lewis and Company, ostrich feather dealers, and not at 30 and 31 Hamsell-street, as at first reported. This mistake is, however, explained by the fact that the rears of these two premises occupied by Messrs. Waller, Brown and Co., mantle manufacturers, and Messrs. Lewis, the former firm carrying on business in the top portions of the two houses. The fire, which it has now been ascertained was undoubtedly caused by an explosion of gas, broke through the premises of the firms in Hamsell-street, and it was in consequence of this that the flames spread with such rapidity along the two streets.

Of course, in some of the above mentioned street only a few of the houses have been touched but Jewin-crescent, Hamsell-street, Well-street, and the greater part of Jewin-street have been wholly destroyed.”

The City Press published a special supplement on the fire, showing the level of destruction across the street. One photo shows Jewin Crescent.

Cripplegate

(reproduced from Grace’s Guide under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike Licence)

If you look in the above photo, there is a building on the right of the street that looks very similar to the building in my father’s 1947 photo, however counting the windows in the 1897 photo, it is not exactly the same, although it appears to be in the right position on Jewin Crescent.

I suspect that it was this building, but rebuilt and modified after the 1897 fire, as I did find a later view of the building, and it is identical to that in my father’s photo.

Cripplegate

Jewin Crescent, London EC1 (Art.IWM ART LD 1202)

The above drawing is by Roland Vivian Pitchforth, one of his works for the War Artists Advisory Committee and is looking west along Jewin Crescent. At the end of the view, on the right of the street is a building that looks identical to that in my father’s 1947 photo.

Both the 1897 photo and wartime print provide a good impression of Jewin Crescent. A narrow, curving street, lined on both sides by tall shops, factories and warehouses. I suspect the building in the 1897 photo was modified or demolished after the fire, and a new building of similar style constructed on the same plot of land, but with changes to the floor layout and windows.

The area where Jewin Crescent and the 1947 building were located is so very different today.

I have marked on the following map extract the approximate locations of Jewin Crescent (red line), Jewin Street (blue line), and the building on Jewin Crescent seen in my father’s photo (orange rectangle), in what are now Thomas More Gardens. The Cripplegate Institute is the orangae circle (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

The following photo shows Thomas More Gardens today. The left part of the 1947 building would have been in the middle of the photo, leading off to the right.

Cripplegate

The same location could hardly be more different. Instead of a densely built, narrow street, which must have been busy with workers and the movement of goods on a work day, Jewin Crescent is now covered by grass, and is a peaceful place surrounded by the buildings of the Barbican estate.

As an aside, a lower level view from around the gardens, provides some interesting perspectives of the Barbican’s architecture. In the following photo, it is clear to see how Gilbert House traverses the lake, held high above the water by a series of (at this distance) surprisingly slender pillars.

Cripplegate

Returning to the building that initially helped me to identify the location, the Cripplegate Institute building is hard to photograph from the south as there is a raised walkway and buildings of the Barbican estate which obscure a full view of the south facing side.

The main part of the building faces onto Golden Lane. The following photo shows the part visible in the 1947 photo, with the main facade on the right.

Cripplegate

The Cripplegate Institute provided a of range educational and cultural services to the residents and workers of the area. A good description of the scope of services offered by the institute, and the very high level of usage of these services is well described in an article from the Shoreditch Observer, dated the 7th November 1908:

“CRIPPLEGATE INSTITUTE – Cripplegate demonstrated its warm interest in its foundation institute on Wednesday night by attending the 12th anniversary conversaxione in strong force. Close upon 400 guests accepted invitations, and they were received in the handsome gold-and-white theatre hall by Mr. B.T. Swinstead, the chairman of the Governors and a member of the Corporation, many of whose members greatly assist the work. The prizes won in the various classes were presented by Deputy and Sheriff Baddeley, and the chairman, in referring to the work of the Institute, said that in the lending part of the library, in which there were 52,000 volumes, some 1,500 books were issued daily, while the average attendance in the newsroom was 5,000 per day.

A special feature was made of the St. John Ambulance and Nursing classes for men and women, and it was hoped to make the Institute the centre for first aid and nursing work in the City. The penny dinner-hour concerts had been attended by 13,284 persons during the year, and over forty societies and clubs had their headquarters in the building. An excellent musical and dramatic entertainment followed.

Owing to the tremendous pressure on the various departments of the Institute, the governors are considering the question of adding another storey to the building, to accommodate the physical drill and other sections of the educational and recreative work.”

The last paragraph explains how the building came to look as it does today. The original building was smaller and of plainer design. The majority of the features we see on the building today, are from the addition of an extra storey.

Some of the figures quoted in the article are remarkable – 1,500 books issued daily, and 5,000 people using the newsroom a day. The institute must have provided much needed services for those living and working in the area.

The Cripplegate Institute opened in 1896, however the foundation stone was laid by the Duke of York two years earlier in 1894:

Cripplegate

The laying of the foundation stone was a typically ceremonial event, with an honour guard from the Honourable Artillery Company, and a band from the same regiment providing the music.

The speeches included very clear references to why such an institution was needed and to the literary importance of Cripplegate:

“The great increase in English literature which had taken place during recent years rendered it most necessary that every effort should be made to place some of that knowledge within the reach of those who were unable to provide themselves with books, either for recreation or instruction, and it was a very natural feeling that the ward of Cripplegate, where Milton and Defoe and other noted authors lived and worked should endeavour to place our literature at the disposal of even the very poorest of our fellow citizens by means of free libraries such as that institute could afford.”

The Duke of York was presented with an inscribed trowel – given the amount of foundation stones laid over the years, I imagine that in some Royal collection somewhere, there must be thousands of trowels, collected from a couple of centuries of foundation stone ceremonies.

The Cripplegate Institute was largely funded by the Cripplegate Foundation, a charity formed in 1891 by the London Parochial Charities Act based on the charitable assets of St. Giles Without Cripplegate, with original gifts dating back to 1500.

The Cripplegate Institute closed in 1973, and the building reopened soon after as the Golden Lane Theatre. The theatre presented a number of professional productions, but was also a focal point for amateur, educational, theatre and dance groups to put on productions.

The Golden Lane Theatre closed around 1988 and the interior has since been converted into office space, and is currently occupied by the Swiss bank UBS.

Cripplegate

I suspect it disappeared during the office conversations, but the facilities of the Cripplegate Institute included a rifle range, and in 1940, when the possibility of a German invasion seemed very real, workers were encouraged to sign up for rifle training. 400 workers from the City of London trained at the Cripplegate Institute. Hopefully for the photographer, their guns were not loaded.

Cripplegate

View of the old Cripplegate Institute building from slightly further along Golden Lane, at the junction with Brackley Street.

Cripplegate

When I first scanned the 1947 photo, I was really not sure that I would be able to track down the location, but starting with the Cripplegate Institute I now know the buildings and street in the photo and roughly where my father was standing when he took the photo.

The development of the Barbican means that it is impossible to take a view of the same scene today, but it is brilliant when walking around the Barbican Estate to think about what was here before, and the fascinating history of this area.

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